In the fifth of a nine-part series, ChicagoBears.com takes an in-depth look at the Bears' offensive line heading into the 2017 offseason.*
The emergence of rookie second-round pick Cody Whitehair was one of the most pleasant surprises for the Bears during the 2016 season.
Whitehair was voted to the NFL All-Rookie Team by the Pro Football Writers Association after starting all 16 games at center—a position he never played at Kansas State.
"He's flourished into one of the best centers in the league, and he's a rookie," said right guard Kyle Long. "He's wise beyond his years. He's very, very, very calm and collected. He asks the right questions when he needs to. He's not afraid to ask the questions that need to be asked."
The Bears traded down twice in the second round of the draft before taking Cody Whitehair.
Whitehair lined up at left guard for most of training camp. But he was moved to center about a week before the regular season opener after the Bears signed three-time Pro Bowl left guard Josh Sitton one day after he was released by the Packers.
Sitton also excelled in his first season with the Bears. The nine-year veteran was voted to his third straight Pro Bowl and fourth overall after appearing in 13 games with 12 starts. Sitton started the season opener just seven days after he was signed—following several late-night cram sessions with the Bears playbook.
"It was challenging for sure," he said late in the season. "It was something that I haven't had to do in quite some time. And while it was challenging, it was kind of stimulating to be thrown in the fire like that and learn the offense in four or five days. It was pretty cool actually."
The injury bug that bit the Bears in 2016 didn't spare the offensive line. Long, who had been voted to the Pro Bowl in each of the three previous seasons, missed eight games, including the final seven with a broken ankle he sustained in a loss to the Buccaneers.
Second-year center Hroniss Grasu suffered a torn ACL in the Bears' Family Fest practice at Soldier Field the first week of August.
It will interesting to see who lines up at center next season because while Whitehair performed very well at the position, he's also capable of potentially playing tackle and guard while the Bears view Grasu strictly as a center.
"If he comes back, that'd be the position he's competing for," said general manager Ryan Pace. "If Hroniss is playing like a solid NFL starting center and gets to that level, which I think he can, that's a good problem. We have flexibility with other guys. Cody Whitehair is a flexible guy and Kyle is too. We'll see how it shakes out."
Right tackle Bobby Massie improved during the second half of the season, while left tackle Charles Leno Jr. was solid but not spectacular.
Backup guards Ted Larsen and Eric Kush provided quality depth. When they replaced the injured Sitton and Long Halloween night against the Vikings, the offense compiled 403 total yards without committing a turnover and allowed just one sack in a 20-10 victory.
Roster addition: The Bears on Friday re-signed tight end Justin Perillo, who spent part of the 2016 season on the team’s practice squad.
Perillo entered the NFL with the Packers in 2014 as an undrafted free agent out of Maine. He appeared in 19 games with one start over three seasons with Green Bay, catching 15 passes for 137 yards and one touchdown.