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Bears' 2019 position review: Offensive line


The following is the fifth of eight position reviews of the Bears' 2019 season.

After sending two players to the Pro Bowl and helping the Bears win the NFC North title in 2018, the offensive line regressed in 2019.

The unit was part of an offense that failed to score a first-half touchdown in 11 of 16 games and ranked 29th in the NFL in scoring, 29th in total yards, 27th in rushing yards, 25th in passing yards, 31st in yards per play and 32nd in yards per pass attempt.

"We struggled in that area this year," general manager Ryan Pace said last week at his end-of-season press conference.

"That's real, and I think we know it starts up front with those guys. That's something we've got to look at. From a personnel standpoint, we're going to look at it. From a schematic standpoint, we're going to look at it. That was real this year. That hurt us."

Asked what accounted for the regression in 2019, Pace cited injuries to right guard Kyle Long and right tackle Bobby Massie, as well as the decision to flip-flop Cody Whitehair and James Daniels.

Bothered by a hip issue, Long did not play well early in the season before being put on injured reserve Oct. 14. He was replaced by Rashaad Coward, a converted defensive lineman who had appeared in only one NFL game prior to this season.

Massie later sustained an ankle injury that forced him to miss the Bears' final five games. He was replaced by veteran journeyman Cornelius Lucas III.

Last offseason the Bears moved Whitehair from center—where he had played exclusively during his first three NFL seasons—to left guard while switching Daniels from left guard to center. Daniels started at left guard as a Bears rookie in 2018 but had played center during his final two seasons at Iowa in 2016-17.

After the Bears lost their fourth straight game to fall to 3-5, they moved Whitehair and Daniels back to their previous positions and the offense performed better, leading to four wins in five games.

At last week's press conference, Pace said that the Bears have not determined where Whitehair and Daniels will play moving forward.

"We're still got to evaluate that," Pace said. "When we did [flip-flop them in 2019, it was done with] a solution-based mindset. It was, 'Hey, let's settle this down.' I think it did help, but they're both versatile. They both can play guard or center. We've just got to continue to look at that.

"I think when you look at James, he's still one of the youngest players on our team. He's still developing. I think he got a lot better as the season went on, but as far as where we're going to put him next year, that's still an evaluation."

New offensive line coach Juan Castillo figures to have a say in that decision. The Bears parted ways with coach Harry Hiestand Jan. 31 and hired Castillo, a veteran of 24 NFL seasons with the Eagles (1995-2012), Ravens (2013-16) and Bills (2017-18). Castillo worked with Bears coach Matt Nagy from 2008-12 on Andy Reid's staff in Philadelphia.

Whitehair and left tackle Charles Leno Jr. both were named to the Pro Bowl last season. But Leno did not perform as well in 2019.

Asked whether the Bears need to upgrade at tackle during free agency and the draft, Pace said: "Those are all offseason things we're going to look at. I think one thing that's always been in my mind is we can never lose track of always adding talent to our offensive line. It's so critical. So we'll look at that. Whether it's tackle or interior linemen is all something we need to analyze.

"We want to be better on the offensive line. Again, there's a multitude of reasons why [the line regressed in 2019], and that's going to be part of our analysis. Again, personnel, scheme — whatever it is, we're going to look at it."