When Josh Sitton joined the Bears last year, he had more than just a new playbook to learn. Released by Green Bay on September 3, Sitton was not on the open market long. He signed with the Bears two days later, less than a week before the 2016 regular season kicked off in Houston. In a matter of days, Sitton had to familiarize himself not only with what Bears coaches wanted him to do on the field, but also learn teammates' names and how the team operated. He found himself following his fellow offensive linemen into meetings and practice those first few days to get acclimated to the Bears and Halas Hall.
Along with a new organization and city, there was also a new position for the offensive lineman to learn. After playing the majority of his career at right guard, Sitton moved to the left side in Chicago. He started 12 games at left guard last season and earned a Pro Bowl invite for his stellar play at that position.
Heading into the 2017 season, Sitton's comfort level with the Bears is much higher. He joined his fellow linemen and quarterback Mike Glennon at a Jason Aldean concert earlier this year, building the chemistry that the unit needs. But once again, the question lingers over what position he'll play. Despite his strong play a year ago at left guard, Bears coaches have Sitton working on the right side during minicamp.
"You want flexibility," head coach John Fox said Tuesday when asked about Sitton. "We're messing around with he and Kyle (Long) both playing opposite sides, whether one's on the left, one's on the right. We'll get those looks in camp, we got plenty of time."
Sitton is nearly equally familiar with both positions. Over his nine-year career, he's made 64 starts at right guard, compared to 59 at left guard. There are differences to the two positions beyond which side of the center he stands next to along the line. However because he's done both of them extensively, Sitton doesn't expect too much of an adjustment regardless of where coaches end up putting him.
"A lot of it is muscle memory, so it takes time to get your body back to that stance with hand placement and things like that," Sitton said. "But being that I've done it before, it's not as big of a transition.
"Some guys are natural right side or left side, or just better on a certain side. It can have to do with anything from what hand you are, your feet might be better, or you may just have more experience on a certain side."
Sitton is still only practicing on a limited basis as he rehabs an injury, as is Long. Fox said both players are on target to be ready for work once camp opens in Bourbonnais. Until then, Sitton is preparing himself to be ready for whichever guard spot he may be placed at. In walk-throughs and meetings, the veteran is paying attention to what the left and right guards are asked to do during a specific play.
Film study is also especially valuable, as it allows Sitton to re-familiarize himself with what a right guard is asked to do depending on the defense in front of him. While there are similarities to the two spots on the field, the right and left guards do have some different responsibilities. Sitton didn't have time to digest all of that last year, when he was thrown into the lineup just days before the season began. So this offseason has been valuable for allowing him to learn.
"You see the field from a different side," Sitton said. "You see a certain play and you know you're going to a certain spot."
Fox agreed, explaining the difference between left and right guard. "It's a feel," the coach said. "It's a different stance. Kinesthetically it's different as far as how you fit, how you squeeze, the directions, you get some kind of the right call on the left side, it's a different direction."
With Sitton and Long both able to play multiple positions, Bears coaches believe the offensive line will have greater flexibility in 2017 than it did a year ago. Sitton said regardless of where he lines up, he thinks the unit can be one of the best offensive lines in the league.
"Playing on the O-line, it's the only position where you have five guys working together," Sitton said. "You're communicating together and you have to be in the right place next to your guy. So building that chemistry is something that takes time. Last year we didn't really get to building that chemistry until Week 1, so it took some time."
The good news for Sitton is that there's less for him to take in this offseason. He's familiar with the Bears. And by the time the 2017 regular season kicks off, his position will be known. In the end, Sitton said he's comfortable playing on either side. "There's things I do better on the left side, things I do better on the right side," he said. "So I think it kind of evens out."