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Training camp position preview: Offensive line


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

An offensive line that helped the Bears win the NFC North with a 12-4 record last season returns intact this year, though two of the starters have flipflopped positions.

During the offseason, the Bears moved second-year pro James Daniels to center and four-year veteran Cody Whitehair to left guard.

Daniels started the final 10 games at left guard last season as a rookie, but he opened 23 games at center his final two seasons at Iowa. Whitehair has started all 16 games in each of his three seasons with the Bears at center, a position he never played in college. At Kansas State, he lined up at left guard early in his career before starting at left tackle his final two seasons.

"I think that whole thing is guys playing their natural positions," offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich said during the offseason. "I think Cody's more comfortable at guard and I think James is more comfortable and confident playing center."

Both players performed well at their new positions during OTA and minicamp practices.

"It's probably really good that I don't even think about it," said coach Matt Nagy. "[Whitehair] has transitioned seamlessly to that. James has done the same thing."

The Bears' other three starters on the line remain the same in left tackle Charles Leno Jr., right guard Kyle Long and right tackle Bobby Massie.

Last season the line helped the Bears score at least 24 points in 11 games, their most since they also tallied at least 24 points 11 times in 1995. The offense allowed only 33 sacks, tied for the eighth fewest in the NFL, and ranked 11th in rushing at 121.1 yards per game.

The unit excelled under the direction of coach Harry Hiestand, who returned for a second stint with the Bears in 2018 after spending the previous six years at Notre Dame. Hiestand previously was the Bears' offensive line coach from 2005-09 on Lovie Smith's staff, helping the team win two NFC North titles and reach Super Bowl XLI.

"Harry has done an unbelievable job," Whitehair said. "With Harry, it's just consistent coaching and teaching of techniques. Later in the year as things get worn down, your body gets worn down, you tend to slip on your techniques. He's constantly on us about that and I think that's what's contributed to a lot of our success."

In 2018, Whitehair and Leno became the first Bears offensive line teammates to be named to the Pro Bowl since center Olin Kreutz and guard Ruben Brown in 2006, the last year the team reached the Super Bowl.

Leno has appeared in 70 games with 62 starts since being selected by the Bears in the seventh round of the 2014 draft out of Boise State. Since joining the No. 1 offense in Week 4 of the 2015 season, he has not missed a game, making 61 straight starts.

Long started the first seven games last season before injuring his foot in a win over the Bills. He missed eight contests before returning to start the Bears' regular-season finale in Minnesota and the wild-card playoff game against the Eagles.

Massie has started 46 of 48 games in three seasons with the Bears, including all 16 contests in 2018. In late January, he signed a four-year contract extension through 2022.

"Bobby has been an important part of our offensive line the past three years and has shown steady improvement during that time," said general manager Ryan Pace. "Bobby has a tremendous work ethic and has displayed the kind of toughness and consistency we want in our players. More importantly, he is a great teammate and we're excited to keep him in the fold."

During the offseason, the Bears added experienced depth to their offensive line by signing center/guard Ted Larsen and tackle T.J. Clemmings.

Larsen appeared in 23 games with 21 starts the past two seasons with the Dolphins. He made 13 starts at left guard last year, one of which was a Week 6 overtime win over the Bears in Miami. Larsen spent the 2016 season with the Bears, playing in all 16 games while making eight starts at right guard in place of the injured Long.

Clemmings has appeared in 41 NFL games with 32 starts over four seasons with the Vikings (2015-16), Redskins (2017) and Raiders (2018). He is expected to compete for the backup swing tackle position with Rashaad Coward and others. Last year that role was filled by Bradley Sowell, who was moved from tackle to tight end during the offseason.