Happy Birthday, Jay Cutler.
On the day that the Bears’ quarterback turned 33, the Bears used a second-round pick on a QB protector, trading down twice before selecting Kansas State offensive lineman Cody Whitehair with the 56th pick of the draft.
Whitehair, 6-foot-4, 305 pounds, was a four-year starter who has played both right and left tackle, starting all 13 games in 2014 at left tackle and performing well enough to earn first-team All-Big 12 honors as a senior.
“I’m kind of a better fit at guard,” Whitehair said, mentioning his lack of length for the tradition fit at tackle. “But I’m good wherever they want me to play.”
Said GM Ryan Pace: “We see him as a guard. He played some tackle, I think he played some center.”
The selection also pushed the looming competitions for jobs and even roster spots on the O-line to projected white-hot levels. The Bears have sounded pleased with Charles Leno at left tackle, backed up by Nick Becton, and signed Bobby Massie in free agency to settle at right tackle, backed up by 2015 sixth-round pick Tayo Fabuluje.
But Pace confirmed that the best-five approach will be the guiding philosophy, meaning coaches will determine the five best offensive linemen that work optimally as a unit. Best indicator: Pace did not rule out putting Kyle Long at left tackle.
“He can play any position,” Pace said, “so I wouldn’t rule anything out for Kyle.”
With Whitehair, Massie and signings of guard/centers Ted Lawson and Manny Ramirez, the Bears have set up the potential for nothing short of furious competition for two of the three interior-line positions on offense. Kyle Long has appeared set at right guard but center Hroniss Grasu and left guard Matt Slauson face major position battles, barring a shift of Long or Whitehair to tackle and inflaming the competition there.
Grasu, Lawson, Ramirez, Slauson and Whitehair are effectively competing for three spots: starting left guard and center, plus a swing man who can play both guard and center. Unless left tackle is an option for Long. And no positions and few roster spots appear to be set other than Massie at right tackle – for now – and Long somewhere.
“These guys are all versatile, all smart, can all play different positions,” Pace said. “Mags [offensive line coach Dave Magazu] is going to have his hands full but we promised him we’d load him up with some talent and we’ve done that. The offensive line is going to be improved.”