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Line should benefit from vets, Hiestand


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

Continuity at the position combined with the arrival of a highly-respected assistant coach should give the Bears offensive line a major boost this season.

Four returning starters in left tackle Charles Leno Jr., center Cody Whitehair, right guard Kyle Long and right tackle Bobby Massie figure to provide stability on a unit that no doubt will grow under the tutelage of coach Harry Hiestand.

Candidates to start at left guard include Eric Kush and rookie second-round draft pick James Daniels, among others.

Hiestand returns this year for a second stint with the Bears. The veteran assistant served in the same capacity for five seasons from 2005-09 under coach Lovie Smith, helping the Bears win two NFC North titles and reach Super Bowl XLI.

Hiestand played a key role in sending center Olin Kreutz (2005 and 2006) and guard Ruben Brown (2006) to the Pro Bowl. Kreutz was also named first-team All-Pro in 2006, the first Bears offensive lineman to accomplish that feat in 17 years.

Hiestand has spent the last 29 seasons as an offensive line coach, mainly at the collegiate level, including the last six years at Notre Dame. His other stops have included Cincinnati (1989-93), Missouri (1994-96), Illinois (1997-2004) and Tennessee (2010-11).

After Hiestand joined first-year coach Matt Nagy's staff, Bears general manager Ryan Pace called it "one of his most important hires."

"I've heard a ton of great things about Harry throughout this building and then just going to Notre Dame and watching how their offensive line plays," Pace said. "They're great technicians, and that's a credit to Harry and what he does. It's a really important hire. We couldn't be happier to have him here and I think he's going to make a big impact."

The Bears also couldn't be happier about Long arriving at training camp healthy enough to practice. The 6-6, 316-pounder was voted to the Pro Bowl in each of his first three seasons with the Bears from 2013-15 while starting 47 of 48 games. But injuries have limited him to 18 contests the past two years.

Long appeared in 10 games last year. He missed the final four contests with a shoulder injury after sitting out the first two weeks of the season recovering from surgery to repair a broken ankle that forced him to miss the final seven games in 2016.

Although Daniels played center the past two seasons at Iowa, he'll begin his Bears career at guard because Whitehair is entrenched at center. A 2016 second-round pick, Whitehair has excelled in two seasons at center, a position he never played at Kansas State.

Daniels lined up at guard as a freshman at Iowa and is confident that he'll make a smooth transition.

With the 39th pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, the Chicago Bears select Iowa OL James Daniels.

"It's hard, but you don't have to make the calls and you don't have to snap, which are two things that centers do that people don't realize how hard it is," Daniels said. "I'm not saying it's easier, it's just different from playing center."

Daniels, who won't turn 21 until September, declared for the draft after his true junior season and has drawn comparisons to Eagles center Jason Kelce.

"The thing about Kelce is he's undersized, so in pass protection the way he uses his hands and plays with leverage, he has to do that or he wouldn't be in the NFL," Daniels said. "He's not big enough or strong enough to have bad technique and be effective.

"The run game, too, the way he plays with leverage and hand placement and pad level is amazing. He's a great athlete, too. I can't say I'm as athletic as him, but we're on the same path, and for those reasons I feel like we're similar."