No. 9: Revamped O-Line
In our second installment of our annual “Give a Damn” series, we take a look at the most under-appreciated group on the roster, the offensive line, which is shaping up to be much improved compared to last season’s unit.
Last year, the Bears offensive line finished as Pro Football Focus’s 16th rated group. They were much better in the run game (5th) than they were in the passing (17th). However, where they struggled the most is with penalties. PFF ranked them 20th in the league, which was due to the unit’s 33 penalties. That’s 18 more penalties than any other positional unit on the roster. Kyle Long (9), Vladimir Ducasse (8) and Matt Slauson (5) lead the Bears in penalties in 2015.
Penalties might have been a reason for the Bears deciding to part ways with Ducasse and Slauson. Either way, the team’s current offensive line will look to mitigate the penalty numbers in 2016.
There are a few ways Chicago revamped its offensive line for the upcoming season …
Kyle Long is back “home” at guard.
Let’s be honest. Long was a little out of his element last season. Yes, he did a fine job against Von Miller, however, there were still a lot of mental errors on his part. The Bears realized this and that’s why they decided to return him to a position in which he thrives at right guard.
Being back at the position in which he is most comfortable will allow the Bears to take strides in 2016. In some ways, moving him back to guard was not due to him struggling at tackle, but rather, it ensures that the team will have nothing to worry about inside with Long there to take charge.
Hroniss Grasu has gained weight.
Even though he was a tad undersized as a rookie, Grasu gained valuable playing experience last season that prepared him for his sophomore campaign. Now that he has gained weight and looks like a viable NFL center, Grasu should be up to speed both physically and mentally.
He has gained more than 15 pounds since last year, which will help him remain sturdy in the trenches as opposing defensive linemen had their way with him a year ago. Furthermore, he comes in much more confident than he did as a rookie.
“Last year I caught myself thinking too much, just thinking if I’m doing the right thing or not, if I made the right call or not,” Grasu said. “But now I’ve got it down.”
With Grasu up to speed, the Bears will be able to utilize the second-year pro any way that they please. Plus, his development will only take the Bears offense further than they were a year ago.
Cody Whitehair is a long-term solution at guard.
Whitehair is the real deal. He came into the draft as PFF’s top-rated offensive guard, and by what I can tell at the first few practices of training camp, he will be starting at left guard from the get-go.
He is an extremely sticky blocker, as defenders cannot shed him. He plays through the whistle (something evident at camp) and looks the part of a veteran.
Having Whitehair to anchor the left side of the line will bode well for the Bears. Jay will feel comfortable as Whitehair should give him the same level of protection that Slauson did, and the run game will improve.
Not only should the offensive line be improved for this year, but the unit should be set for the foreseeable future as they are quite young. Grasu, Whitehair and starting right tackle Charles Leno Jr. are only 24 years old. Right tackle Bobby Massie is 26 and Long is 27.
That gives the Bears offensive line an average age of 25.4. Needless to say, if this group gels, they could remain together for quite some time.
Why Should You Give a Damn?
Having a youthful offensive line, especially if the unit plays up to expectations, is something to covet. By having a stronger group up front, the Bears will improve in both the run and the pass. Last year’s group was a makeshift one, this year’s has been deliberately planned from the start.
I have no doubt that this unit will keep Cutler upright more than he was a year ago, Bears quarterbacks went down 35 times last season. I also expect this group to create some holes for whoever is carrying the ball for the Bears on any given down.
Having a solid offensive line is something that should not be taken for granted. That’s why this year’s squad is a reason to give a damn about our team in 2016.