Cody Whitehair

Bears All-Decade Team: Kyle Long, Charles Leno anchor O-line

Bears All-Decade Team: Kyle Long, Charles Leno anchor O-line

The Chicago Bears wrapped up their 100th season of football in disappointing fashion, but the 2010s provided Bears fans with some fun moments and personalities to cheer for.

In this nine-part series, we'll name our Bears All-Decade Team.

We've already covered linebackersdefensive linemenedge defenderscornerbackssafeties , wide receivers, quarterback and running backs. Next up: offensive line and tight ends.

Offensive Line

Kyle Long (guard), Roberto Garza (center), Charles Leno (tackle), Cody Whitehair (center/guard), Josh Sitton (guard)

The Bears haven't exactly been blessed with elite offensive line play in the 2010s, but they've managed to field five players over the last 10 years who each warrant recognition on this all-decade squad.

The first and most obvious is Long, who's been Chicago's vocal leader on and off the field since he arrived as a first-round pick out of Oregon back in 2013. He took the NFL by storm and was considered one of the best young linemen in the league after his rookie season; he was named to the All-Rookie team that year and was selected to the Pro Bowl for three consecutive seasons from 2013-15. 

Injuries have gotten the best of Long since his last Pro-Bowl year and he hasn't managed more than nine starts in any season since 2015. Regardless, he's been the Bears' best offensive lineman of the decade.

Garza isn't far behind Long when it comes to the most memorable linemen of the 2010s. After beginning his career with the Atlanta Falcons in 2001, Garza joined the Bears in 2005 and became a fixture in the starting lineup until 2014. He started 78 games in Chicago from 2010-14 and finished his career as a Bear with 145 total starts. He never received any all-star accolades or awards, but Garza was a huge part of the Bears' foundation for 10 years.

Leno, Jr., one of two players on this list who will likely enter the new decade as a starter, ended the 2010s as one of the Bears' most pleasant surprises. Leno was selected by the Bears with the 246th pick of the 2014 NFL draft, a draft slot that usually results in a player being a career backup, at best. Instead, Leno has developed into one of the most important players on the roster and one of the more competent starting left tackles in the NFL. He's started 78 games for the Bears and was selected to the 2018 Pro Bowl.

The other new-decade starter is Whitehair, who's been arguably the Bears' most valuable lineman when it comes to positional versatility and quality of play. Whitehair has started at both center and guard and has played both positions at a high level. The former second-round pick of the 2016 NFL draft has started all 64 games of his career and was selected to the 2016 All-Rookie Team and 2018 Pro Bowl. It's hard to imagine what the Bears' offensive line would be like if Whitehair wasn't in town. One thing's for sure: the offense would be in a lot of trouble.

Last but not least is Sitton, one of GM Ryan Pace's better free-agent decisions during his tenure with the Bears. Sitton signed with the Bears in 2016 after an eight-year career with the Green Bay Packers and immediately elevated the offensive line's toughness and effectiveness. His presence was short-lived (he started only 25 games in Chicago), but his impact was long-lasting. He made the Pro Bowl in his first season with the Bears and was a key part in running back Jordan Howard finishing second in the NFL in rushing that year.

Tight End: Martellus Bennett

Bennett played three seasons for the Bears, started 41 games and put up remarkable numbers at a position that's plagued Chicago since the days of Mike Ditka.

In 2014, Bennett caught 90 passes for 916 yards and six touchdowns, numbers that coach Matt Nagy could only dream of from a tight end in his offense. By the time Bennett's run in Chicago was over, he caught 211 passes for 2,114 yards and 14 scores. 

New Year's Resolutions for the Bears' offense, defense, and special teams

New Year's Resolutions for the Bears' offense, defense, and special teams

It's Resolution season, baby. Time to set some lofty goals, slowly walk them back by March and forget them altogether by June. What's important is that we said them out loud now, so it counts. The Bears are probably setting some resolutions, or othey should because they finished 8-8. Here are some suggestions, just in case they needed any help, no pressure or anything: 

Offense – Figure Out Who Actually Plays What Position On The Offensive Line 

You'd think this would already be a somewhat-heavily emphasized part of the offense, and yet the Bears cannot seem to figure out where they want Cody Whitehair or James Daniels to play. 

"I think there's a couple of things there," GM Ryan Pace said when asked why the offensive line regressed in 2019. "The injury to Kyle [Long], switching Whitehair and James, injury to [Bobby] Massie late in the year. We struggled in that area this year. That's real, and I think we know it starts up front with those guys. That's something we've really got to look at. From a personnel standpoint we're gonna look at it. From a schematic standpoint, we're gonna look at it." 

Pace also said the team is still "evaluating" the long term plan for both Whitehair and Daniels, so even if the GM is playing his cards close to the vest, it's not a great look that the Bears have found themselves in a sort of no-man's-land with two very talented offensive linemen. For what it's worth, according to Pro Football Focus' grades, the Bears run- and pass-blocking almost immediately improved following the Week 10 switch. Fixing the running game is going to be one of the largest undertakings of the offseason, and fixing that starts with the offensive line. The firing of Harry Hiestand and subsequent hiring of Juan Castillo provides a peek into what direction the Bears are taking this offseason, but there are still plenty of questions up front that require honest assessment. 

Defense – Go To Yoga With Khalil Mack

Akiem Hicks missed 11 games this season. Danny Trevathan missed six, and Roquan Smith missed four. The Bears were due after 2018's injury-free season, but having three All-Pro-caliber starters, all in the middle of the defense, miss that much time was a dramatic swing in the wrong direction. Khalil Mack, however, continues to look stylishly comfortable in all of his yoga gear while playing every game of the season for the fifth time in his six-year career. And even in a "down" season, Mack finished as PFF's 16th-best pass rusher. False correlations? Maybe! But you probably can't go wrong doing whatever Khalil Mack's doing. 

Special Teams – Don't have too much fun in Miami 

I don't know why I titled it that, they're allowed to have as much in Miami as they want. Eddy Pineiro will spend his offseason training in South Florida with Pat O'Donnell, and that unit, along with holder Patrick Scales, have reportedly grown close:

"I think that Scales and Pat O’Donnell should get a lot of credit because they’ve helped raise him also just with their veteran leadership," said Special Teams coordinator Chris Tabor of Pineiro's late-season success. "The group is really tight and I’m proud of them.”

For Pineiro's part, the kicker said that while he's always working on improving his technique, his top priority while in South Florida will be putting on weight. Though he ended his season hitting his last 11 kicks, only one of those – the lone three points in a loss to Kansas City – was from farther than 40 yards. Pineiro admitted that having to consistently kick a cold ball took some getting used to, especially as he continued to work his way back from a pinched nerve in his kicking knee. Just throw a couple footballs in the freezer when you're down there, Eddy. 

How Bears will approach first game in Matt Nagy era with nothing on the line

How Bears will approach first game in Matt Nagy era with nothing on the line

It looked like a normal Tuesday inside Halas Hall, with a half-dozen or so players scattered around a quiet locker room, stopping only to check their phones or grab a snack before heading into treatment. It felt like anything but a normal Tuesday inside Halas Hall, though, when they chatted with media for the first time since the immediate aftermath of the 21-13 loss to Green Bay that ended the Bears’ playoff hopes.

“We want to continue to show that we’re a better team than what we put out there this year,” center Cody Whitehair said. “Obviously we haven’t played up to the expectations this year, so just to come out here and end the year on a positive note.”

In a way, Tuesday was the last day they’d have to field questions almost exclusively focused on missing the playoffs. Wednesdays are the de facto start of the NFL week, and by then the conversation typically moves toward the upcoming game. That’s not to say the Bears’ playoff failure is going away any time soon, because you absolutely know it’s not, but with Matt Nagy’s mentor and Mitch Trubisky’s comparison in town, Wednesday might allow players the chance to refocus on football. Tuesday, though, was focused on failure.

“You know, I think it just came down to execution,” Whitehair added. “There were certain plays we wish we could have had back obviously. I think it was just about execution.”

Like Nagy said on Monday, the Bears are now on precarious ground for the next two weeks; it’ll be the first time in his tenure that this group has played regular-season football with nothing on the line. The Bears have to manufacture their own motivation now, which in itself can actually be a pretty valuable lesson.

“What type of respect do [players] have for themselves? How do they see themselves? What are they willing to put on the line for their dreams?” Akiem Hicks said. “It’s really just a self-check. Things haven’t gone the way you wanted, you hit a wall in some situations, so how are you gonna respond to it? That’s the age-old question for an athlete or a person in general: How do they respond to adversity?”

The Bears have done their due diligence hitting all the lines about playing hard every week, but they’re also a team that’s never given anyone a reason to believe otherwise. They’ve lost by more than one score only once in the Nagy era, and there are still plenty of performance-based incentives to keep players motivated. Some may not get the chance due to injury. Hicks returned last week from an elbow injury and gutted his way through the Packer game in obvious pain. “It’s my body, but the Bears have a lease on it,” he said. 

If he’s given the choice, the defensive tackle will be lining up against Pat Mahomes come Sunday night. “It’s about the boys, man. It’s about being out there with your guys,” Hicks said. “I love competition. I love competition. I love riding with my guys.”

As for what went wrong this season, neither Whitehair nor Hicks had much interest in relitigating it. Whitehair, who’s typically reserved with media, deferred to the one-game-at-a-time response. Hicks, who’s decidedly not, found an equally fitting response.

“You always say, ‘Man, I wish I could have contributed, I wish I could have done better, I wish I wouldn’t have gotten hurt.' … if a wish was a fifth, we’d all be drunk.” 

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