The truth about the Bears offensive line last year is that it was OK, but certainly not special.Yes, at the end of the 2015 season, Kyle Long was the best guard in football, but that was before a rash of ankle, leg, shoulder and neck injuries limited him to 8, 9 and 8 games each of the past three seasons, respectively.
James Daniels was a second-round draft choice last year, when the Bears started him at guard in 11 games.
He was fine, but learning on the job.
At right and left tackle, Bobby Massie and Charles Leno may never be All Pros but are better than average and still improving — even though they are in their eighth and sixth seasons, respectively.
The bottom line: Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen might have led the NFL in getting clobbered two and three yards behind the scrimmage, and a ton of that was on the O-line. (Chicago ranked 22nd in the NFL with 20.5 percent of their total RB carries ending in tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage, according to Football Outsiders.)
The good news is the same group can be much better this year.
The other day in Bourbonnais, offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich offered this observation about Long and the rest of the group.
“Yeah, I mean, (Long’s) a force.
“And all those guys, the veteran guys, the two tackles and Kyle that have been playing a lot of football, they’re doing a great job right now with the ‘new position guys.’
“But having Kyle out there in full confidence is a big deal.”
Coming off his first offseason in three years with no surgeries to rehab, Long appears ready to dominate again.
The “new position guys,” Whitehair — who is now at his natural guard position for the first time since his rookie minicamp — and Daniels, whom a number of respected scouts last season projected as the best center prospect in the draft — along with backups Ted Larsen and Alex Bars — have the interior of the Bears O-line looking like one of the best in the league.
The one veteran the Bears paid this offseason was Massie, as much because of what he means in the locker room and the huddle as he does on the field.
Nagy talked the other day about the importance of having Massie back.
“There’s scenarios where guys sacrifice maybe a little bit of money to be here with guys they want to play with, coaches they want to play for, an organization they want to be part of.
“That’s just who he is — and I think it speaks volumes about him.”
There is really only one big area of concern about this group at this point: what if Massie or Leno gets hurt?
The Bears would love to lean on special project Rashaad Coward, who they’ve spent the last year trying to convert from defensive tackle to offensive tackle.
Nagy says of Coward, “Once he went all-in, he was all-in.
“He’s very valuable for us as a guy that can play different positions on the O-line.”
I asked Coward Tuesday what the toughest challenge of the switch has been, and he told me, “Being more consistent. This has been probably bugging me, but just being more consistent in my technique will benefit me more.”
Coward, a defensive lineman at Old Dominion, was reluctant two offseasons ago to first make the switch to offense,but he is certain now about what he wants.
“Oh no, this is where I want to be. This is where I want to be for sure,” he told PFW.
“I want to keep working with Coach Harry (Hiestand) and coach Nagy to get better.”
So what’s the concern?
The Bears like what they’ve seen of Coward behind Massie on the right side, but the left side is still a different challenge for him. While Nagy says Coward can play different positions, he probably was referring more to right tackle or guard than protecting Mitch Trubisky’s blind side.
The right side — I’ve been practicing it more — so I feel more comfortable than the left right now.”
The Bears other options behind Leno at the moment, veterans Cornelius Lucas and T.J. Clemmings, have failed to impress.
Overall, this Bears offensive line is close to being very, very good, but at least for now it may be critical to keep Charles Leno healthy.