This is the fifth of our position-by-position series previewing what to watch in Bears training camp this summer. The team reports to Bourbonnais July 27.
It appears only two players on the Bears’ offensive line will start at the same positions where they ended 2015: Charles Leno and Hroniss Grasu at left tackle and center, respectively. Kyle Long has moved back to right guard, the Bears signed Bobby Massie to play right tackle and there will be a competition to start at left guard. John Fox, Dowell Loggains and Dave Magazu have a vision for this group and we’ll watch it continue to form in Bourbonnais.
Three things to watch on the offensive line in training camp:
Larsen vs. Whitehair: Even though he’s changing positions, again, the Bears have to feel comfortable with three-time Pro Bowler Kyle Long, so the focus in camp will be on the four other positions. The only clear competition for a starting job on offense is at left guard between former Cardinal Ted Larsen and second-round pick Cody Whitehair. Larsen got a decent contract and has plenty of starting experience, 57 starts to be exact, including 26 the past two seasons for a very good Cardinals team. But Larsen missed minicamp with an undisclosed injury, paving the way for Whitehair to get meaningful early reps with the starters. These are both players the Bears’ brass wanted for the guard position, it’ll be a question of how early Whitehair can be ready to step in and start. He’s the future, but can Larsen be healthy and effective enough to be the present?
Grasu’s growth: When Manny Ramirez retired, that all but handed the starting center job to Grasu, who was thrown into the position last year after Will Montgomery’s injury. Grasu had his rookie struggles, but he added weight this offseason and had a full winter and spring to prepare for Year Two. Grasu has the athletic skill set the Bears want on their O-line, which is why they drafted him, not to mention the smarts for the center position. He’ll be counted on to be the anchor next to a new starter at left guard, and his progression will be monitored closely in training camp, especially when the pads come on and he has to go up against Eddie Goldman and others during practice.
The bookends: The Bears are not without questions at both tackle positions. The staff has put a lot of confidence in Charles Leno to keep improving at left tackle, and he wants to prove them right, but how will he handle edge rushers who have a year of tape to study? Then there’s Bobby Massie, the new right tackle who signed a three-year, $18 million contract. Massie is known better for his run blocking than pass blocking, but makes the O-line better by allowing Long to go back to guard. The other thing to watch at tackle in camp is the battle to be the top backups between Nick Becton, Nate Chandler, Jason Weaver and undrafted rookie John Kling.