Eric Kush

2017 Bears position grades: Offensive Line

2017 Bears position grades: Offensive Line

2017 grade: C+

Level of need: Medium

Decisions to be made on: Josh Sitton (contract), Eric Kush (contract), Hroniss Grasu (contract), Bobby Massie (contract), Tom Compton (free agent), Bradley Sowell (free agent)

Possible free agent targets: Andrew Norwell, D.J. Fluker, Justin Pugh, Josh Kline, Jonathan Cooper

How the Bears’ offensive line will shape up in 2018 begins with a decision on which the Bears are already on the clock. The team has until March 9 to pick up Josh Sitton’s 2018 option -- or, to put it another way, they have until March 9 to determine if Sitton was/is/will be good enough to justify keeping him and not netting about $8 million in cap savings, per Spotrac. 

For what it’s worth, Bleacher Report ranked Sitton as the league’s sixth-best guard in 2017. If the Bears’ grades of Sitton match those outside ones, then the team probably won’t cut him -- not destabilizing Mitchell Trubisky’s offensive line would be well worth the money in that case. While Sitton turns 32 in June, cutting him would put a lot of pressure on Kyle Long, who hasn’t been fully healthy since 2016. The Bears are hopeful that Long will be back to full strength after multiple offseason surgeries, but releasing Sitton and then signing/drafting his replacement would be a gamble on Long’s health. 

Sitton’s status is the first part of the Bears’ 2018 offensive line equation. There’s also a decision to be made on Bobby Massie, who Bleacher Report ranked as the NFL’s 14th-best right tackle last year but could be cut for about $5.5 million in cap savings, according to Spotrac. It wouldn’t be surprising if the Bears cut or kept both Sitton and Massie for now, then drafted an offensive lineman in the first round (like Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson or Texas tackle Connor Williams) and released one of them. Or they could keep both through the end of the 2018 season. All those options would make sense on some level.

What wouldn’t seem to make sense is the Bears cutting Sitton or Massie and replacing them with a free agent. This year’s offensive line free agent class, without adding any potential cap casualties to it, isn’t particularly strong. By Bleacher Report’s rankings, the best free agent right tackle is Houston’s Breno Giancomi, who’s 27th in that list -- 13 spots behind Massie. At left tackle, New England’s Nate Solder (No. 22) isn’t rated as highly as Charles Leno (No. 20), who we'll talk about in a bit here. 

The only potential upgrade available via free agency would be Carolina Panthers guard Andrew Norwell (No. 2 in B/R’s rankings), who’s 26 and is in line for a big payday this spring -- but that would seemingly be counter-intuitive to releasing Sitton and then potentially paying more money to a different guard, even if he’s younger and has more long-term upside. The Bears could opt for a cheaper guard in free agency who could have some potential working with respected O-line coach Harry Hiestand -- the Giants’ D.J. Fluker (57th in B/R’s rankings) or Justin Pugh (42nd) fit that mold, as would the Titans’ Josh Kline (37th) or Cowboys’ Jonathan Cooper (38th). Or the Bears could keep Sitton and still sign one of those guys as insurance in case Long and/or Eric Kush, who tore his ACL last training camp, isn’t ready to start the season. 

Tom Compton and Bradley Sowell proved to be serviceable backups last year and could be an option to return, even with a new coaching staff in place. The health of Kush, who was missed as a reliable backup in 2017, will be important in figuring out what the Bears' O-line depth looks like. Hroniss Grasu struggled when he was on the field and missed time due to a hand injury, and despite playing for offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich at Oregon could be on the chopping block before/during training camp. 

We’ll finish here with some thoughts on Leno and Cody Whitehair. Could the Bears upgrade at left tackle and displace Leno to the right side of the offensive line? Possibly, especially if Hiestand believes he can make that move work. But it’d be odd if the Bears shifted Leno off left tackle and then signed someone who’s older and, depending on the evaluator, not even as good as him. 

This is all probably a moot point, since the Bears’ internal evaluation of Leno is what matters here. Leno is 26 and the Bears believe he hasn’t reached his ceiling yet, so more than likely, he’s sticking where he is. At the very least, he’ll enter 2018 with a starting job on the Bears’ offensive line. 

One other offseason objective for Hiestand and the new coaching staff: Keeping Whitehair at the same position. Whitehair’s versatility felt like it worked against him at times last year, with the former regime opting to shift him between guard and center quite a bit from the start of training camp through the early part of the season. That instability seemed to affect Whitehair’s play, as he went through a bizarre patch of snapping issues after moving back to center and struggled to be as consistent as he was in 2016. But Whitehair finished 2017 strong, and keeping him at center for the entirety of 2018 could get him back on track to make his first Pro Bowl. 

Kush and tushes, picking up the energy: Six takeaways from Monday Bears camp


Kush and tushes, picking up the energy: Six takeaways from Monday Bears camp

1. From Kush to Tush: Bad news on the injury front, as swing guard/center Eric Kush has been lost for the season after surgery to repair a torn hamstring. While Kyle Long still isn't full-go in his recovery from ankle surgery, center Cody Whitehair played a handful of snaps back at the position he was drafted for, guard, and replaced by Hroniss Grasu. That led to Mike Glennon being asked about adjusting to a new center. The first points that came to mind: snap speed, and "butt placement."  Ask a question, and Glennon answers.

2. Not-so-funny Glennon: At one point early in Monday's practice, Glennon called the offense around him. "I just felt we weren't off to a good start. Coming off an off-day., sometimes it takes a little while to get going and I just thought it would be a good idea to group everyone together and kind of pick up that energy because we weren't really good the first period. I thought we responded well after that."

3. One on one: As Adam Shaheen continues working on his blocking skills and strengthening his base, he was directly isolated in drills where tight ends are matched up versus outside linebackers. The 6'6, 270-lb. rookie was pushed steadily backwards by 6'4, 251-lb. Leonard Floyd, also a testament to how last year's top pick has increased his strength.

4. Passing games: On a day several defensive backs came oh-so-close to interceptions, including a drop by Prince Amukamara with an open field in front of him, quarterbacks threaded the needle just out of defenders' reach. Marcus Cooper was inches away twice versus Cam Meredith. But the latter held on after a good pop over the middle from Eddie Jackson. Mitch Trubisky fumbled a snap, and on the next play, rolled right under pressure and dropped a perfect in-the-bucket pass into the outstretched hands of a diving Ben Braunecker. Later in red zone drills, he stepped up in the pocket under pressure, found Ka`Deem Carey open in the end zone. The pass deflected off Carey into the arms of Rueben Randle. Mark Sanchez had the prettiest throw of the day, 40-plus yards down the sideline to Tanner Gentry, who got behind Kyle Fuller.

5. Punt return games: It's a fun "concentration" drill to watch for the returners: catch, then hold on to each football caught while another comes your way, until you can't. Rookies Tarik Cohen and Eddie Jackson both collected four, but couldn't quite hang on to a fifth, as both tried to estimate where the fifth would come down, plant themselves, and stick one football between their knees in hopes of getting that fifth. I dunno - under the jersey instead next time?

6. Cutty Love: From John Fox, to Glennon, to Zach Miller, all the Bears who were asked about Jay Cutler were happy for him as he came out of retirement this weekend to come to the Dolphins' rescue. Miller said he remained in contact with his former quarterback throughout the decision-making process, finalized when he texted Miller "I'm doing it."  And think of this: while the Bears open versus Atlanta, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh and Green Bay, the Dolphins' early schedule has the makings for a strong start. They open by hosting the Buccaneers, then have road games versus the Chargers and Jets before facing the Saints in London.

State of the O-line: Bears' depth takes a hit as Eric Kush tears hamstring


State of the O-line: Bears' depth takes a hit as Eric Kush tears hamstring

The Bears have their first major injury of training camp as interior offensive lineman Eric Kush suffered a torn hamstring on Monday.

Kush, who signed a two-year deal with the Bears this offseason, will undergo season-ending surgery after tearing the hamstring off the bone. The Bears placed him on IR and signed undrafted rookie OL Brandon Greene.

It's great that second-year offensive lineman Cody Whitehair is as versatile as he is, because if Kyle Long can't answer the bell to start the regular season, the former second round pick could be back where he was slated to start as a rookie last season.

Kush was going to be the left guard if Long needed time beyond the  September 10 opener to be game-ready. But in Monday's practice, we saw Whitehair slide over from the center position he took over in Week 1 a year ago after Hroniss Grasu's knee injury and the signing of Josh Sitton. Grasu replaced Whitehair at center in those instances Monday in Bourbonnais.

We're not sure how big a roster bubble Grasu would've been on if everyone made it through the preseason, including Long getting the green light. His case now is definitely strengthened, unfortunately at the cost of Kush.

But before we play the very first preseason game Thursday, the offensive line can't really afford another injury hit. Depth in the middle of a unit that was projected to be one of their strengths would suddenly look a little thin. Waiver wire pickups Will Poehls and Cyril Richardson are next men up, with Richardson's 12 games and four starts the only regular season action between them.