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Offensive line should provide continuity

Posted Jul 17, 2017

While the Bears made major changes at most positions during the offseason, the offensive line is one of the few areas that will return virtually intact.

The following is the fifth of nine position previews in advance of training camp.

While the Bears made major changes at most positions during the offseason, the offensive line is one of the few areas that will return virtually intact.

In fact, all five starters are expected back, which should provide some much-needed continuity on an offense that includes three new quarterbacks.

The strength of the line is inside, with veteran Pro Bowl guards Kyle Long and Josh Sitton flanking promising second-year center Cody Whitehair.

Long returns after missing the final seven games last season with a broken ankle he sustained in a loss to the Buccaneers. Selected by the Bears with the 20th pick in the 2013 draft, Long became the franchise’s first player to be voted to the Pro Bowl in each of his first three seasons since former middle linebacker Brian Urlacher.

Sitton is back after being named to his third straight Pro Bowl and fourth overall. A surprise cut by the Packers last Sept. 3, he signed with the Bears the next day and started the season opener against the Texans a week later.

Whitehair was named to several NFL All-Rookie teams after anchoring the Bears line last season. The second-round pick started all 16 games at center, a position he never played at Kansas State. After lining up at guard in training camp and the preseason, Whitehair was moved to center about a week before the regular season after the Bears lost center Hroniss Grasu to a season-ending knee injury and signed Sitton.

The Bears are hopeful that Grasu will be able to rebound from the torn ACL he sustained last Aug. 6 in the team’s Family Fest practice at Soldier Field. A 2015 third-round pick, Grasu showed promise as a rookie while starting eight games.

Left tackle Charles Leno Jr. and right tackle Bobby Massie also return. They likely will be pushed by veteran free-agent acquisition Tom Compton, who arrives after spending his first five NFL seasons with the Redskins (2012-15) and Falcons (2016).

Compton started nine games in 2014 and two contests in 2015 for the Redskins before playing in all 16 games as a reserve with the Falcons last season.

The Bears also bolstered their offensive line in the draft by choosing Kutztown’s Jordan Morgan in the fifth round. Last season Morgan won the Gene Upshaw Award as the top Division II lineman and also became the first lineman to be named Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference East offensive athlete of the year.

Others competing for roster spots on the offensive line this summer will be Eric Kush, Taylor Boggs, William Poehls, Bradley Sowell, Cyril Richardson and Dieugot Joseph. Kush appeared in eight games with four starts for the Bears last year.

This season the offensive line will be coached by Jeremiah Washburn, who replaces Dave Magazu. Washburn has spent the past 15 years in the NFL, most recently as an assistant offensive line coach with the Dolphins in 2016. Under his tutelage, the line helped running back Jay Ajayi rush for 1,272 yards—the third most in franchise history—including three straight 200-yard games.

Washburn worked for the Lions the previous seven seasons, first as an offensive assistant from 2009-12 and later as offensive line coach from 2013-15. He entered the league in 2002 with the Panthers as a football operations assistant on Bears coach John Fox’s staff in Carolina and worked with the Ravens as a player personnel assistant in 2003-04 and later as an area scout from 2005-08.