The mantra of the Bears’ 2016 offseason – “COMPETITION” – will not begin in earnest until coaches and players come together for organized team activities starting at the end of this month, and it will continue until…well, it won’t completely stop until sometime in early January.
But while competitions will be ongoing at virtually every position save a handful, certain positions have clear early leaders, with interesting implications.
Nowhere more so than on the offensive line that will be the foundation of an emphasized run game and the protection of the organization’s franchise quarterback.
The stated philosophy at all levels from GM Ryan Pace on down is that the five best linemen regardless of position will be the No. 1s. But the reality is that three of those “best five” appear effectively set.
Subject to unforeseen developments, consider:
Right guard: Kyle Long
Neither Pace nor coach John Fox would commit to Kyle Long’s job description but “Kyle is our right guard,” Magazu said. “We were kind of unfair to Kyle springing it on him as late as we did. I think he needs to settle in mentally.”
Right tackle: Bobby Massie
Signing Bobby Massie was a priority for a reason. “[He’s a] big, long, physical guy,” Magazu said. “He’s not going to be easy to bull-rush. I’m excited about where Bobby is. We’re going to look good on the right side.”
Left tackle: Charles Leno Jr.
Leno, like center Hroniss Grasu, has added weight and strength in the weight room. Leno slid into the job because of injuries to Jermon Bushrod but then made it his own based on performance.
And he simply fits better at left tackle than right, something that apparently took time to figure out, with Leno starting two of the first three games at right tackle and the fourth at right. “As a tackle you’ve got to be really good with your inside hand,” Magazu said. “He’s a little bit better with his right hand than he is with his left. ... I think that revolves around being more dominant with his right hand than his left.”
What all of that really boils down to the fact that the real competitions will effectively be waged at two spots – center and left guard – contested by four primary principals – Grasu, Ted Larsen, Manny Ramirez, rookie Cody Whitehair.
Given that Long was voted to the Pro Bowl at guard as a rookie, Massie was a 16-game starter as a rookie, and Larsen started 11 games as a rookie, No. 2 pick Whitehair will be very much in the chase for a starting position. He in fact worked at center at times during the rookie minicamp.
“You put on the tape and [Whitehair] just a consistent, good football player,” Magazu said. “He can move, he fits, he understands leverage in football.”
The “best five” actually involves three distinctly different positions – center, guard, tackle – but “all the techniques are so close to being the same, that if you can execute it on a 3-technique, you can execute it on a ‘shade,’” Magazu said. “All the techniques are tied in and each better know what the other is doing.
“I really think it’s going to just play out. We’ve got four preseason games and then our opener Sept. 11. They’ll be the ones to decide which the best five are.
“We’re going to put on the tape; Ryan Pace is going to look at it, coach Fox is going to look at it, Dowell [Loggains, offensive coordinator] going to look at it. They’re going to know, they pick who the starting five is going to be."