The strength of this Bears team comes on the interior of the offensive line, with Pro Bowlers Josh Sitton and Kyle Long at guard and Cody Whitehair, who flourished as a rookie, manning the center position. Left tackle Charles Leno is playing for a big contract, and Bobby Massie is playing to live up to his. Here are questions to be answered along the O-line in training camp.
When will Long be ready? Coming off ankle surgery this offseason, it has been a long recovery for the three-time Pro Bowler and most recognizable and popular player on the team. Long’s leadership is important on an offense with so many new faces again, but his play also is paramount to build off last season’s team success running the ball. Long may swap with Sitton and play left guard, something we could see tested in Bourbonnais, but Long has to be fully healthy first. He is a candidate to begin camp on the PUP list, but the Bears certainly need him in the trenches to be back to his Pro Bowl form.
How good can Whitehair be in Year 2? The sophomore jump in the NFL is an oft-discussed offseason storyline. Whitehair is the ultimate Bears candidate to break out and be a Pro Bowl player in his second season. Consider this: Whitehair, who didn’t play center in college, moves to the pivot just before the season starts and winds up as an All-Rookie performer, showing poise and confidence at center. Now, give Whitehair a full offseason to work at the position, and he should improve greatly.
Can Leno play well enough to be the long-term left tackle? Maybe the best draft pick of the Phil Emery era, or second to Long, Leno has spent the majority of two seasons as the team’s starter at left tackle. He’s extremely cheap this season at $690,000 at a high-paying position. Should Leno ascend, using his great size and now his experience at the position to be a dependable blind-side tackle, the Bears could reward him with a long-term contract. They’ve shown confidence in Leno by not drafting or signing left tackles in the past two seasons, but he still needs to play better. Leno is only 25, and the team will want to see his progress at training camp.
Can Massie improve and make this unit one of the NFL’s best? Massie signed a three-year, $16 million contract in March 2016 but was considered by some observers to be the weak link last season. The interior is good with Whitehair, Long and Sitton, and Leno is solid at left tackle. The Bears did sign veterans Tom Compton and Bradley Sowell, so Massie could see competition if his play slips in Bourbonnais. Or, he can be the player the Bears gave more than $5 million a season to when he comes to camp and help fortify the group.