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Whitehair confident in new-look line

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In five seasons with the Bears, Cody Whitehair has played for nearly every type of team.

Whitehair's rookie season in 2016 was the team's worst season in over a decade. His third season brought his first playoff berth and Pro Bowl selection.

Now, he's playing for a team that dropped six straight games, yet has recovered enough to enter Week 16 with a shot at the playoffs.

"You just see a lot of smiles," said Whitehair. "You know we're still playing for a lot. We're still in that playoff race. We're taking every game like it is a playoff game, and that's just what we've got to continue to do these next two games and get into the show." 

Last season, Whitehair was a part of a midseason offensive line shuffle that aimed to resurrect a struggling offense. However, moving Whitehair back to center from guard provided only mixed results.

This season, the offensive line has been in a constant state of change, losing Week 1 starters James Daniels and Bobby Massie to injuries, and shuffling several players to make up for their loss. Whitehair missed two games due to injury and COVID-19 protocols, the first time in five years that he was forced to sit out.

Since the Week 11 bye, the shakeup has worked. Since Whitehair moved back to guard, the position he was drafted to play, the Bears' offense has come alive.

"We're really jelling well right now," said Whitehair. "You know our schemes have been great, guys have been executing the schemes that's being called, and I think it just comes down to execution, and that's where we're at right now. We're just executing at a high level."

The recent offensive outburst, in which the offense has averaged 31 points per game, is due primarily to an improved running game. 

"I think it comes down to execution," said Whitehair. "Guys are sustaining their blocks, guys are giving our run game a chance, and that's what this comes down to, and then that helps our pass game."

Whitehair elaborated on the success that first-year offensive line coach Juan Castillo has had in finding the right starting lineup.

"I think just honing in on the basics and the fundamentals," said Whitehair, "and just fitting those every day. We start every day at practice with our fundamentals, and that's what's carried us to help finish our blocks and being able to sustain our blocks to get David [Montgomery] to the second level."

Whitehair has been impressed by the play of first-year center Sam Mustipher. Unlike Whitehair, Mustipher came to the Bears with extensive experience at the position. Unlike the former second-round pick Whitehair, Mustipher came as an undrafted free agent needing to prove he belonged on the roster.

"He's really done a great job," said Whitehair. "He's done great with I.D.ing everything, getting us all on the same page. I think that's the biggest role of the center is making sure all our guys are on the same page, and he's done a great job with that."

Whitehair switched back to center last season due in part to his chemistry with quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. However, Trubisky's return as the team's starting quarterback coincided with Whitehair's switch to guard. Whitehair believes that Trubisky has been key to the improved play of the offensive line.

"Mitch has done a great job both run and pass and selling what he's got to do," said Whitehair. "He's just done a great job. He's come back very confident right now and is playing at a high level."

Whitehair, known for his quiet brand of leadership, believes that Trubisky has taken ownership of the offense and pushed everyone to play better.

"He's really doing some nice things for us," said Whitehair, "and he's really taken command of that huddle, making sure we're staying on the right track and executing our plays. Like I said, he's done a great job for us."

After the Bears recorded 199 rushing yards against the Minnesota Vikings, the offensive line has shaken some of the perception of the six-game losing streak when the team was one of the NFL's least productive offenses running the ball.

"It just gives us confidence," said Whitehair. "That's one thing that we haven't been able to do is run the ball as well as we have the past few weeks. So we've just got to keep that going, and that opens up our play-action and all of our other passes."

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