UA-59049186-1 2020 Chicago Bears Preview: Offensive Line - Good if it Goes

2020 Chicago Bears Preview: Offensive Line

(Photo credit: Chicago Tribune)

After a sub-par showing from the offensive line a year ago, so-called O-line guru Harry Hiestand was shown the door. Filling his shoes is Juan Castillo, who Nagy got to know in Philadelphia while working for Andy Reid. Castillo’s career path, from your author’s introductory profile:

In Philadelphia, Castillo coached tight ends, then the offensive line, then for some reason, in 2011 was named defensive coordinator. He was fired after two years in that position, after which he headed to Baltimore, where he would spend four years, the first as run game coordinator and the next three as OL coach. He held both jobs for the next two years in Buffalo before being let go. He spent the 2019 season as an analyst at Michigan.”

Four out of Michigan’s five starting offensive linemen got drafted this year and the only reason Jalen Mayfield didn’t make it a clean sweep was that he wasn’t eligible. He has already declared for the 2021 Draft, where he is drawing 1st-round hype after a strong performance against 2020 number 2 overall pick Chase Young. Wolverines Offensive Line Coach Ed Warriner deserves the lion’s share of the credit for that, but Castillo still played a sizable role. Jon Runyan, Jr., who made quite a leap over the course of his career in Ann Arbor from “guy who looked totally and completely lost in his debut” to “NFL draft pick” and whose father played for Castillo in Philadelphia, spoke effusively of Castillo in an interview with mLive:

“(Castillo) was a coach that coached my [sic] dad his entire career in Philadelphia,” Runyan said. “He’s down for whatever. Texting me clips of stuff that he sees. Always down to get into the film room whenever. If I have a question or anything. Telling me drills that I can work on myself.”

Hiestand came in with a ton of hype given his record of producing quality NFL linemen at Notre Dame, that turned out to be all Hiestand brought. Guys didn’t get better while he was here. They were unable to execute the blocking schemes the way they needed to be run for the offense to function. Mitchell Trubisky’s inability to run the offense competently hampered the team a year ago, and given the nature of his position, deserves his spot atop the list of those to blame for a poor 2019. Hiestand’s name is next on the list, as the line’s screw-ups and lack of development both put Trubisky under pressure and shot the ground game in the foot. As a result, he drew quite a bit of ire from your author and there was much rejoicing from him when he was rightfully canned.

Castillo, on the other hand, wasn’t viewed as as much of a “home run” hire, but has drawn positive reviews from players and media thus far. Hopefully, that leads to results when it counts.

Charles Leno, Jr. returns as the Bears’ left tackle. Your author thought he was a flat-out disappointment in 2019, as per said author’s grading, Leno’s run blocking only occasionally cleared the Mendoza line and his pass blocking ventured into the negatives far too often. Not only was Leno’s 2019 disappointing because he just wasn’t very good, it was extra disappointing because this was what written about him in last year’s team preview:

Charles Leno, Jr. returns to protect Trubisky’s blind side. Solid in both the run and pass games a year ago, the former 7th-round draft pick has proven to be a steal.”

So, yeah, that aged poorly. Leno got a big money contract and promptly fell off. He needs a strong 2020 to prove his value to the team, otherwise, he could be a cap casualty after the season, especially if the cap takes a hit due to revenue lost due to the pandemic.

Bobby Massie returns opposite Leno and finds himself in a similar boat. Your author has generally liked his run blocking in the past. From last year’s preview:

Massie has shown great skill as a run blocker – when he gets his hands on you, you’re done. It’s getting the hands there in the first place that’s been an adventure for Massie since signing with the Bears.”

He did not live up to that in grading last year. Like Leno, he got a new contract and then fell off. His pass blocking didn’t really get worse, which only sounds like good news until you realize that that’s only because it wasn’t good in the first place.

James Daniels returns at left guard after a 2019 that saw the team try to move him to center only to reverse course and have Cody Whitehair move back to the middle. It’s not as though that was a totally misguided idea – Daniels is a natural center, having played the position since high school. Given that the best linemen on teams that aren’t totally loaded with talent tend to play tackle, playing center since high school is kind of a big deal. (Daniels went to Warren G. Harding High School, a public school in Warren, Ohio. While the school has produced multiple future pros, Daniels was the first offensive lineman to make it to the league in nearly two decades.) Nevertheless, that experiment is over. Cody Whitehair is the center, Daniels is at left guard. While Daniels’s 2019 as a whole left a little to be desired. He had his share of moments and finished with 10.5 stars in your author’s Stars of the Game standings. He showed up to camp looking great and reports from camp have been positive. This space predicts a breakout year.

Germain Ifedi figures to be the starting right guard this season. Fan favorite Kyle Long stepped away from the game this off-season, after a few years shortened by injury. Rashaad Coward stepped in last year and was always somewhere between “meh” and “disaster.” So he doesn’t leave the biggest of shoes to fill. This space asserts that Ifedi should at least be an improvement over Coward, as he usually at least knows what he should be doing. While he struggled in Seattle, those struggles were mostly at tackle and related to protecting the edge (read: not a concern at guard). While he’s not going to all of a sudden turn into an All-Pro at guard in Chicago, healthy (Ifedi has only missed one game after making his debut in week 4 of 2016) and competent (Not a shot at Long at all. Very much a shot at Coward.) would be a marked improvement over last year at RG.

Cody Whitehair is the starting center. As mentioned earlier, the Bears tried switching him and James Daniels a year ago to results not good enough to keep things that way. Your author liked Whitehair at both spots, but the line functioned better with him making the line calls, so center it is for number 65. A year ago, Whitehair acquitted himself well in your author’s grading as he finished fourth on the team in the Stars of the Game standings with 15.5 accumulated over the course of the season. The three players ahead of him were Allen Robinson, Eddie Jackson, and Khalil Mack, who all tied at 19.5. Fourth behind those guys is nothing to sneeze at. Whitehair has drawn positive reviews from Castillo, and given what we’ve seen from Whitehair thus far in his career, Castillo’s probably not just blowing smoke. Your author predicts a Pro Bowl selection and possibly an All-Pro one to go with it.

Jason Spriggs was selected by the Packers eight picks ahead of Whitehair in the 2016 Draft. Your author was very high on Spriggs coming out of Indiana. Four years later, it is clear I was wrong. My bad. Spriggs mostly stunk in Green Bay. Word is that the Bears liked him in 2016. Now they get a chance, without a lot at stake, to see if they can help him become the player they, and I, thought he’d become. Any potential progress was paused, though, as Spriggs was injured in camp. Still no word on a timeline for his return to the field.

Alex Bars came to Chicago as an undrafted free agent a year ago. If not for some injuries at Notre Dame, he would have heard his name called. After being promoted from the practice squad in week 7, he made the active lineup for the first time in week 13, where he played one snap on offense as an extra offensive lineman. Your author has him down for 11 offensive snaps a year ago. While this space is not writing him off entirely, it is saying he is probably never going to be more than a backup.

Rashaad Coward returns to the team because reasons. After being converted from the defensive interior, he has played both tackle and guard and struggled mightily at both tackle and guard. If he’s needed for major action, the team is in trouble.

 

Twitter: @KSchroeder_312

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