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Hub Arkush: With Bears desperate for improvement up front, Cody Whitehair’s leadership will be critical

LAKE FOREST – There are few things that everyone can agree on when it comes to the Chicago Bears, but the closest to death and taxes is significant improvement on the offensive line is a must if the Bears are going to make the playoffs again.

The only sure thing on the Bears line right now is left guard Cody Whitehair.

Since arriving in Chicago five years ago via the 56th overall selection in the 2016 draft, Whitehair started every game his first four seasons and missed just two last year – Week 8 against the Saints due to a calf injury and Week 9 against the Titans due to COVID-19 protocols.

He was a four-year starter at Kansas State. He spent his first two college seasons at guard and then his junior and senior years at left tackle, but the Bears drafted him to play guard.

He was set to start there as a rookie until Hroniss Grasu tore his ACL in training camp and Whitehair was moved in to center.

He played well enough to go to the Pro Bowl in 2018 as an alternate, but after drafting James Daniels – also in the second round – and having him start 10 games at guard as a rookie, Whitehair slid back over to guard to start the 2019 season to let Daniels play his natural center position.

But when Kyle Long went down at right guard and Rashaad Coward moved in, Whitehair was moved back to center for some veteran experience between Daniels and Coward at the guards.

After starting the season that way again last year, Whitehair was flipped back out to guard after Daniels went down with a torn pectoral muscle and Sam Mustipher moved into the starting center role.

It would seem enough to give most folks motion sickness and I asked Whitehair how much it will mean to him to be locked in this year at left guard with Mustipher now the established starter at center.

“I’ve always been a team-first guy; that will never change,” Whitehair said. “Absolutely, the more you play a position, the more comfortable you get. I feel really comfortable right now, but like I said I’m always a team-first guy and if the team needs me to move anywhere I’m always down for that.”

Whitehair is clearly the leader of the O-line, just ask this year’s secon-round pick, Teven Jenkins, who is relying on Whitehair to guide him as he learns the ropes.

“The one I’ve been talking to mostly is Cody Whitehair, who’s a guard here,” Jenkins said.

Apparently even his teammates have to identify Whitehair’s position since he’s been bounced around so much.

“Basically he just reached out to see if I need a helping hand or anything, if I need extra help anywhere I can,” Jenkins said. “All I can really say is I really appreciate him and I really appreciate the things he’s doing for me.”

Whitehair believes it’s really important for rookies to have someone in the role he’s trying to fill with Jenkins.

“It’s tough to come in with expectations, but I think you just have to take it day by day and really lean on an older guy, a veteran guy,” Whitehair said. “Follow him where he goes, it’s so new to all these younger guys.”

Whitehair has done the same for Mustipher, but he’s not wild about getting the credit.

“Sam has done a great job,” Whitehair said. “He likes to give me credit, I don’t take all the credit at all. Sam has developed into a good pro. That’s just the kind of person he is and the player that he has become.”

NFL offensive lines require chemistry more than any other position group and Whitehair is a leader in that regard, too.

“When we’re not meeting with coaches, we’re still together – in the facility; trying to lift weights together; trying to study tape together, just be around the guys so we can get to know them on a personal level,” Whitehair said. “And that helps that relationship on the field.

“The more you do, the better … I think continuity is the biggest thing with the O-line and that all starts on and off the field.”

It seems Whitehair is the guy almost everyone is looking to. He’s key to a resurgence of the offensive line.

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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