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Bears offensive line aiming to be 'one heartbeat'

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One day last week, Bears coach Matt Nagy peered out of his office window and witnessed something he had never seen before.

"I'm looking out before practice, before the walk-through, and I look out on the practice field, and as guys are walking across from one field to the next, about a half mile away, I see about 16 [offensive] linemen standing outside my window," Nagy said. "They're not moving. They're not going anywhere. And all of the sudden I see a guy trickle out from the door to come with them and walk over to the walk-through.

"It's the first time I've ever seen that. You've got 17, 18 O-linemen that are all doing this as one. They're not leaving their guy behind, and they all go over and do everything together—when they're in the weight room lifting together, when they're walking over to practice, when it's post-practice. I've never seen that, ever. And that to me is special."

The one-for-all, all-for-one mentality is being preached by veteran offensive line coach Juan Castillo, and his players are eating it up.

"We're a close-knit group," said right tackle Germain Ifedi. "We really care for each other. We do everything together. We try to be one heartbeat. We don't try to be individuals.

"Unfortunately, it can happen. But our line here—me, Cody [Whitehair], James [Daniels], all of us with experience on the line—have really hammered that point home; that we're about unity. We're all about doing things together and having camaraderie, and we know that's going to feed into what we do on the field come the [regular] season and preseason."

Improved play from a reconfigured line keyed an offensive resurgence over the second half of last season. During the Bears' bye week in October, Ifedi was moved from right guard to right tackle, while Notre Dame products Sam Mustipher and Alex Bars were inserted into the starting unit at center and right guard, respectively.

In the Bears' first five games after making those changes, they scored 19 touchdowns and averaged 33.0 points. In their previous seven contests, they had mustered just nine TDs and averaged 16.7 points.

The line hopes to pick up this year where it left off last season. The Bears bolstered the unit this offseason by signing free agent Elijah Wilkinson, who started 26 games at right guard and right tackle for the Broncos the past three seasons; and spending two of their first three draft picks on tackles Teven Jenkins in the second round and Larry Borom in the fifth.

Jenkins and Borom have impressed in offseason workouts, but the rate of their development will become much clearer when the pads come on in training camp.

"It's going to take a little bit of time, and what's hard with O-linemen is we have no pads right now," Nagy said. "There are so many rules that we can't do this and we can't do that. So once we get into training camp it's going to be the true test to see really where they're at. But they've been doing great, the young guys, Teven and Larry."

“We do everything together. We try to be one heartbeat. We don’t try to be individuals.” Bears RT Germain Ifedi

Veteran left tackle Charles Leno Jr. was released last month, but the line figures to benefit from the return of Daniels from a torn pectoral muscle that sidelined him for the final 11 games last season.

"The offensive line does look a little different in certain areas," Nagy said. "One of the things that we're trying to do right now is create as much competition as we can, really, at every position. Having that competition is just going to help make us better.

"What Juan is doing right now is making sure that all of these guys understand we're doing it for one cause—to be the best O-line, not the best O-linemen, the best group together as one."

Rookies and veterans take the field for practice during the first week of Organized Team Activities at Halas Hall.

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