The Chicago Bears will open the regular season with a cast of new faces along the offensive line. The front five will have new starters at every single position compared to Week 1 last year, with three starters who weren't on the team in 2015, one of whom just joined the club yesterday.
It's not an ideal situation, as chemistry up front always takes time, but it's a scenario in which the Bears are comfortable.
The addition of three-time Pro Bowl guard Josh Sitton less than a week before the regular season opener has thrown a wrench into Chicago's plans up front, but it's a good wrench. The Bears will gladly suffer through some chemistry issues the first month of the season if it means a two-time All-Pro will be lining up at left guard for 16 games.
That was the risk GM Ryan Pace was willing to make when he aggressively pursued Sitton following his departure from Green Bay on Saturday. Adding elite talent to a banged up offensive line that has looked out of sorts throughout the preseason was a no brainer, even if it means a few missed assignment early on.
So with Sitton on board, here is the Bears' projected offensive line heading into Sunday's contest against the Houston Texans:
LT Charles Leno
LG Josh Sitton
C Cody Whitehair/Ted Larsen
RG Kyle Long
RT Bobby Massie
Leno was a work in progress last season after taking over the starting left tackle duties in Week 4. He struggled mightily at times -- his 32 QB pressures, per Pro Football Focus, were more than all but 16 offensive tackles in the league in 2015 -- but he did show signs of promise, particularly late in the campaign.
Throughout training camp and the preseason, Leno has been the most stable member of Chicago's offensive line. While guys are getting hurt or underperforming all around him, Leno has been rock solid protecting Jay Cutler's blind side.
In practice, Leno was solid during 1-on-1 pass-rush drills, showing good footwork, hand punch and balance. It appears he's taken another step forward this season and could prove to be very dependable on the left edge.
Sitton last season earned All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors after allowing just 3 sacks, 0 QB hits and 9 QB hurries, per PFF. He graded as a Top 5 NFL guard in 2015, both in pass protection and as a run blocker.
Sitton dealt with some nagging back issues last season but he didn't miss a single contest. In fact, he started 110 of the Packers' last 112 games. Dependability is one of his many strengths.
At 30 years old, Sitton should have plenty left in the tank. He brings experience, leadership and nastiness to an offensive line in need of all three. He'll pay dividends immediately.
Cody Whitehair/Ted Larsen
Larsen is listed as the starter on the Week 1 unofficial depth chart. He has shown toughness in practice but he was inconsistent in the preseason. He may begin the year as the starter but he'll be on a short leash.
Whitehair struggled throughout training camp and for stretches during the preseason. He has all of the physical tools but he's been slow to adapt to the speed, power and intricacies of the NFL game. Blitz recognition has been particularly difficult for him.
The Bears have used Whitehair mainly at left guard but he did see reps at center with the second and third teams. He doesn't have much experience at center but with Sitton and Long on board, Whitehair could develop rapidly.
There could be some learning pains due to his inexperience but Whitehair is a tough, smart player who will benefit greatly from having three-time Pro Bowlers on either side of him, as they'll be able to clean up and mitigate his mistakes.
Kyle Long is arguably the best guard in the NFL and he's about to receive a four-year contract extension. After playing right tackle last year, Long is back at his best position and should once again be the anchor for the offensive line.
The one concern with Long is his recovery from a recent shoulder injury. He returned to practice this week and should be good to go for Sunday but how much the injury will impact his play on the field remains to be seen. That said, there might not be a tougher player in the NFL than Long, so I'm not sweating the shoulder issue.
Massie has been sketchy in pass protection. Don't expect that to change during the season. Yet in the run game, Massie has provided a major boost.
He's going to allow the occasional pass rusher into the backfield but Massie, working alongside Long on the right side, is going to open some major holes in the run game. His size and nastiness will should benefit Jeremy Langford, Ka'Deem Carey and Jordan Howard.
Mike Adams will serve as the swing tackle, which is concerning. Adams struggled throughout training camp and the preseason, never displaying the adequate quickness to keep edge rushers out of the backfield. The tackle market is bone dry but don't be surprised if Adams is only around for a few more weeks.
Eric Kush was claimed off waivers from the Los Angeles Rams yesterday, which sent Cornelius Edison packing. Kush has started 10 games during his four-year career, including seven with the Rams last season. He should provide an upgrade over Edison, who has no regular-season NFL experience.
With Sitton in the fold and Larsen out of the starting lineup, Chicago's offensive line should be more than serviceable this year. It's unlikely they'll reach elite status but the talent level up front should easily be enough to achieve dependability.
In today's NFL, you can win with an average offensive line and there's no reason the Bears can't be average or better. Long and Sitton are arguably the best guard pairing in the NFL, which should accelerate Whitehair's development.
Leno has been solid and Massie can road grade, creating a front five that should have no problem keeping Cutler upright, while also opening holes in the run game.
Bottom line: the Bears have a better offense than they did three days ago and the concerns about the offensive line holding the team back in 2016 have been eliminated.null