Three questions for Bears OL: What kind of an impact will Harry Hiestand make?

Three questions for Bears OL: What kind of an impact will Harry Hiestand make?

Pre-camp depth chart
1. Charles Leno
2. Bradley Sowell
3. Matt McCants

1. Eric Kush
2. James Daniels
3. Jordan Morgan
4. Will Pericak

1. Cody Whitehair
2. James Daniels
3. Hroniss Grasu

1. Kyle Long
2. Earl Watford
3. Brandon Greene
4. Jeremi Hall

1. Bobby Massie
2. Bradley Sowell
3. Dejon Allen

1. Can Kyle Long get and stay healthy?

The expectation is that Long will be cleared to practice for the beginning of training camp, paving the way for him to be part of the Bears’ Week 1 starting lineup (Matt Nagy said in June that Long will be “good to go” for camp, for what it’s worth). Long has played less than 50 percent of the Bears’ offensive snaps in the last two years due to a string of injuries, and the 29-year-old underwent procedures on his shoulder, elbow and neck after his season ended. 

Long’s toughness isn’t in question — that he still started nine games last year despite never being 100 percent is a testament to that — but the Bears need him to play more for their offensive line to be at its best. Long’s health, and if he gets any planned rest days, will be a daily storyline in Bourbonnais. 

The good news, though, is Long already impressed his new offensive line coach during OTAs and minicamp despite not being able to do much on the field. 

“He really wants to be good,” Harry Hiestand said. “He’s fun to be around, he comes in the meeting room every day with a smile on his face, looking forward to working. He’s very interested in helping the other guys. I didn’t know that about him. But after I’ll say something, the meeting will break and they’ll be walking out to get a break and he’ll be like, you know what coach was talking about there to the young guys. So that part’s been really good about him.” 

2. Where will James Daniels wind up?

The snap assumption — pun intended — when the Bears drafted Daniels in the second round was that he’d play center and Cody Whitehair would shift over to left guard, where he played in college. But the Bears quickly quashed that theory, with Ryan Pace telling the media shortly after drafting Daniels that the Iowa product would begin his pro career practicing as a guard and cross-training at center. 

Daniels, indeed, worked at both positions during OTAs and minicamp, and trying to read any tea leaves from non-padded practices for offensive linemen can be a bit of a stretch. So we’ll get a good idea of where the Bears envision Daniels’ long-term position during training camp practices and then, more importantly, in preseason games. 

Wherever the 20-year-old Daniels winds up, though, the Bears are confident they added a solid piece to protect Mitch Trubisky and pave the way for Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen. 

“The benefit of having a guy like James Daniels, he’s versatile, he can play different positions,” Nagy said in May. “So (we’re) able to let him come in here and play guard and see what he can do, learn from the other guys, let Harry teach these guys the technique.”

3. Can Charles Leno keep growing under Harry Hiestand?

Pro Football Focus ranked Leno as the 15th best tackle in the NFL in 2017, while Bleacher Report’s NFL1000 rankings slotted him 20th among left tackles. Somewhere in that range probably seems right — Leno is a solid player but not among the best tackles in the league.

And here’s the thing: That’s fine. Leno’s four-year contract carries an average annual salary of $9.25 million, which ranks 16th among tackles. Ryan Pace believed in Leno’s upside when he signed him to that deal last August, and if Hiestand — who never coached a game without a future first-round pick at left tackle in six years at Notre Dame — can help Leno realize that potential, the Bears will have an absolute bargain at left tackle for years to come. 

“He’s going to push us,” Leno said. “He’s going to make sure we’re working every single day. Everybody’s coming to work every single day grinding, trying to get better at something, whether it’s putting your hands inside, or hands up, whatever it may be, you’re getting better at something. He’s pushing us to do that. so that just makes us better.”

Even if Leno doesn’t hit that upside and maintains being “solid” or “fine” or whatever you want to call it, that won’t necessarily be a deterrent to the Bears’ success. Ten of the top 20 tackles in Pro Football Focus’ rankings played for a team that didn’t make the playoffs in 2017 — and while, of course, having an elite left tackle is preferable, the Bears can still be competitive with Leno manning that position in 2018.

How ex-Bears wide receiver Kevin White lives with being an NFL Draft ‘bust’

USA Today

How ex-Bears wide receiver Kevin White lives with being an NFL Draft ‘bust’

Kevin White knows the word association that goes on with his name. You might be doing it right now. 

“When they think of Kevin White: Bust, injuries, we don’t know, question mark,” the 2015 seventh overall pick told me during a lengthy Zoom chat. 

Of the 500 top-10 picks from 1970-2019, only seven have played fewer games than White’s 14. Four of those seven players were drafted in 2019. 

And even the late Charles Rogers — the most infamous wide receiver “bust” in league history — had four touchdowns with the Detroit Lions. White reached the end zone once. 

In a preseason game. 

When no Bears starters were playing. 

White was a high pick who didn’t live up to expectations —the definition of a bust. But he’s able to cope with that label by knowing why he was a bust. 

“People can say bust or whatever the case may be, and it is attached to my name by default,” White said. “So I think for me, okay, you can say Kevin White’s a bust because it didn’t work out. Absolutely. 

“But you can’t say Kevin White can’t play this game or Kevin White can’t get open or Kevin White’s dropping passes. You couldn’t say any of that. Not at practice, not in the little bit of games that I did play. 

“You could say injuries, you know, held me back but you can’t say I was out there and just pissed it all (away) — you can’t say that. So that’s how I deal with it.”

White is not on an NFL roster right now. The Bears let him become a free agent after the 2018 season, and he was released by the Arizona Cardinals late last August. A tryout with the Detroit Lions in the fall went nowhere, as White said he wasn’t 100 percent following a Grade 3 hamstring tear suffered in Cardinals camp. 

White felt like he played at a high level in the NFL, even if he only had 285 receiving yards in those 14 games. Most of White’s healthy moments came in practice, though, either during non-padded OTA practices or training camp. But he still can project the kind of confidence teams want out of their wide receivers, even if he’s not currently on a team.

“If I was out there playing, healthy and I couldn’t get open, getting strapped every play or dropping balls — okay, I can take that and yeah, I didn’t do well, I haven’t been playing well and I’m a bust because of my numbers,” White said. “But with injuries and not being out there, I can’t do anything.”

A stress fracture in his leg sidelined White for his entire rookie year. Then, just as he felt he was starting to realize his potential, he suffered a severe ankle sprain and fractured fibula four weeks into the 2016 season. His scapula was fractured on a freak hit against the Atlanta Falcons in the fourth quarter of 2017’s first game. 

Three serious injuries. Three grueling rehabs. In three consecutive years. 

It’s hard to fathom the mental and physical toll that can take on someone. 

“I got dealt bust cards and can’t cry about it, complain about it, but it is kind of a punch in the stomach,” White said. “It’s like, I got all the talent in the world, done it the right way. Like why, God? What am I doing wrong? What do you want me to see out of being hurt year after year after year?”

White still can say he was the seventh overall pick in an NFL Draft. He had a 1,000-yard season at West Virginia. He felt like he went about his career the right way both on and off the field, and just was the victim of horrible, brutal luck. 

MORE: Why Kevin White feels cheated by football

But White is also only 27 years old. He’s got a lot of life ahead of him. And while he’s still hoping to get another shot in the NFL, he’s also working to make sure being a bust doesn’t define his own life. 

Even if that’s what he’ll always be known for by everyone else. 

“You can’t let one thing in your life — okay, let’s say I never play a down of football ever again. I can’t let that consume the rest of my life,” White said. “That’s like a smidge compared to, hopefully, how long I’m gonna live. But it’s also a big part of my life so I do care about it, I do think about it but I’m not going to let it consume my life. 

“I wouldn’t let football consume my life. It’s other things to do, it’s life. You got one life, I want to enjoy it, do the best I can at whatever profession I’m doing. But I just try to be happy. I’m alive. A lot of people aren’t alive right now. 

“Why would I cry about what other people think or how my career has gone? A lot of people can’t say the things I’ve accomplished. 

“But yeah," White added, "just take it on the chin.” 

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Under Center Podcast: Former Bears WR Kevin White opens up about his career


Under Center Podcast: Former Bears WR Kevin White opens up about his career

In 2015, his very first draft as Bears GM, Ryan Pace selected wide receiver Kevin White seventh overall. White was let ago after his rookie deal, leaving fans confused and wondering why his Bears tenure was so short-lived.

NBCS Bears insider JJ Stankevitz got a chance to talk with White about his career with the Bears, where it went wrong and how he's still fighting to get rid of the bust label by his name.

(4:41) - What did it mean for White to be selected 7th overall?

(11:21) - Is it difficult for White having the word "bust" attached to his name?

(17:40) - Things the average fans don't know about constantly rehabbing injuries

(26:07) - White describes what went wrong in 2018 for him

(34:07) - White feels he could have gotten a better shot to play

(42:10) - White wants to prove to Chicago fans that he was worth the pick

Listen here or below.

Under Center Podcast


Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Bears.