Bobby Massie

Bears offensive line ranked 13th in NFL by Pro Football Focus

Bears offensive line ranked 13th in NFL by Pro Football Focus

The Chicago Bears are entering an exciting time. From Mitchell Trubisky, the young franchise quarterback GM Ryan Pace has hung his reputation on, to a defense that may have continued its long-standing tradition at inside linebacker with first-round pick Roquan Smith, there's good reason to be optimistic.

However, football is won in the trenches, and for the Bears to have any chance at a playoff run this season, they'll need exceptional play from the offensive line. 

According to Pro Football Focus, Chicago has the talent up front to contend. PFF ranked the Bears' offensive line 13th in the NFL.

13. CHICAGO BEARS

2017 season-end rank: 11th (-2)

We had this line ranked fifth at this time a season ago, but that was before Cody Whitehair disappointed in his sophomore campaign and Josh Sitton moved on to Miami. The interior that was so strong in 2016 and fueled a huge rookie campaign from Jordan Howard that all of a sudden looks much different. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though. Rookie second-round pick James Daniels out of Iowa slots into left guard and was the highest run-blocking graded center in the country last year at only 20 years old. If Whitehair can get back to his rookie level which saw him earn an 85.9 overall grade and Kyle Long can stay healthy, this will be a top line once again.

The second-round selection of James Daniels, while noted as a good pick by most analysts, still feels underappreciated. His presence allows Whitehair to focus solely on playing center (assuming Kyle Long and Daniels stay healthy) and that will go a long way in helping him return to his rookie year form, as noted by PFF.

Still, much of the success up front will depend on how well right tackle Bobby Massie plays in pass protection. He has to hold up in order for Trubisky to take advantage of his new set of skill players, and while Massie hasn't been a total liability, he needs to play more consistent football in 2018.

The Bears offense is setting up for a huge year in 2018 that will largely depend on the play of five guys who won't catch a pass or score a touchdown. If they give Trubisky time to throw and open holes for Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen, a fight for the playoffs in December is a very real possibility.

Pro Football Focus: Bears rank near bottom-third of NFL in pass protection

Pro Football Focus: Bears rank near bottom-third of NFL in pass protection

If the Chicago Bears want to make a real run at the playoffs in 2018, the offensive line will have to do its part by keeping QB Mitch Trubisky upright. The offense is expected to be more pass-heavy under coach Matt Nagy and will depend on Trubisky having time in the pocket to go through his progressions and find the open target.

New offensive line coach Harry Hiestand should help that cause. He's universally praised as one of the best offensive line coaches in the sport and will be charged with getting a better effort from a unit that ended last season ranked in the bottom-third of pass protection, according to Pro Football Focus.

19. CHICAGO BEARS

2017 pass-blocking efficiency: 77.9

Best individual PBE: Josh Sitton, 97.4

Because of several crippling injuries, nine different players saw at least 100 pass-block snaps for the Bears in 2017. They gave up 152 pressures on 536 passing plays. The top performance came from left tackle Charles Leno Jr., who enjoyed the best season of his career and allowed just 24 pressures all season. Heading into the 2018 campaign, rookie guard James Daniels is penciled in to fill the shoes of the recently departed pass-blocking star Josh Sitton. Daniels performed well in pass protection during his final college season, allowing just 10 pressures on 371 pass-blocking snaps at Iowa.

The Bears will be without last season's top pass-protector, Josh Sitton, who was let go by GM Ryan Pace this offseason and signed with the Dolphins. 

Pass protection was once all about the play of the offensive tackles, but with the NFL's interior defensive linemen evolving into disruptive forces up the middle, guard play will be nearly as important. A healthy Kyle Long is critical. Chicago can't afford growing pains from James Daniels, either. Cody Whitehair returns to full-time center duties, a role he excelled at during his rookie season. 

Charles Leno should provide reliable play at left tackle. Bobby Massie remains a wildcard, but with little depth behind him, the Bears can do nothing more than hope his bad reps are limited in 2018.

With Hiestand in the fold and a healthy Long ready to compete at a high level again, the Bears' offensive line should be much improved this season.

Protection Issues: Bears O-line ranked 21st in NFL

Protection Issues: Bears O-line ranked 21st in NFL

Mitch Trubisky has been set up for a huge season in 2018 with all the firepower the Chicago Bears added on offense. Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Anthony Miller and Trey Burton will give the second-year quarterback a variety of explosive targets to generate points in bunches.

None of the headline-grabbing moves will matter, however, if the offensive line doesn't do its job. 

According to Numberfire.com, the Bears' starting five could be the offense's Achilles heel. They were ranked 21st in the NFL and described as poor in pass protection.

Last year, the Bears ranked 26th in Sack NEP per drop back and 23rd in sack rate. These issues were especially apparent after Trubisky took over. In the games that [Kyle] Long played, their sack rate was 8.2%. It was actually 7.2% in the games that he missed. They struggled even when Long was healthy.

The Bears added Iowa's James Daniels in the second round of April's draft and he's expected to start at guard alongside Long. Cody Whitehair will resume his role as the starting center, with Charles Leno, Jr. and Bobby Massie at offensive tackle.

If Long comes back healthy and Daniels lives up to his draft cost, they should be a good run-blocking team from the jump. But Long has played just 18 games the past two years and is entering his age-30 season, so that's far from a lock. On top of that, the pass blocking was suspect last year and remains a mystery entering 2018.

The biggest addition to the offensive line is Harry Hiestand, the accomplished position coach who returns to Chicago after once serving in the same role under Lovie Smith from 2005-2009. He most recently coached at Notre Dame and helped develop multiple first-round picks. He's going to have a huge impact.

The good news for the Bears is they weren't the lowest-ranked offensive line in the NFC North. The Vikings came in at No. 25. The Packers checked-in at No. 13, while the Lions were 16th.