From going one-on-one with Texans nose tackle Vince Wilfork to the occasional run-in with superstar J.J. Watt to helping handle Eagles Pro Bowl defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, the first two weeks of the season have been wild for Bears rookie center Cody Whitehair.
“Definitely some good tests for him early on,” guard Josh Sitton said. “He’ll be able to learn from those games and those experiences.
“You can’t get that type of experience or whatever at practice. It’s something you get in games. And he did a nice job.”
If there is one positive about the offense, it’s how Whitehair has performed against different challenges. The Bears’ second-round pick rarely has been overwhelmed. In fact, he can look very polished at times.
Not only did Whitehair hold his own against Wilfork and Cox, but he went one-on-one with Texans pass-rushing linebacker Whitney Mercilus. He helped Sitton and guard Kyle Long limit Cox (42 snaps) and starting defensive tackle Bennie Logan (31) to one quarterback hit and three tackles.
All of it bodes well for the immediate and long-term future of the interior of the Bears’ offensive line.
“It’s great that this happened early,” said Sitton, who made three Pro Bowls with the Packers. “Those are some real good football players that he’s gone against. He did a pretty nice job for the most part.”
They’re matchups that Whitehair wouldn’t trade for anything.
“It got the jitters out of the way the first couple games,” Whitehair said. “You get ready to go.”
Whitehair also benefitted from a technical standpoint. He had to plan for Wilfork differently than Cox.
“It’s just getting your body in the right position,” Whitehair said. “Against Fletcher, you had to be a little bit faster, whereas against Vince, you had to be a little bit more powerful and that kind of stuff.”
Whitehair has gained confidence from the experiences.
“I felt like I’ve grown a lot,” Whitehair said. “It’s taught me a lot. It’s helped me become a better player as far as technical stuff and hand placement.
“Going up against the best of the best, you’ve got to perform to the best of the best. It’s taught me a lot. I’ve matured a lot.”
The game Sunday night against the Cowboys on the road will challenge Whitehair’s abilities even more.
The Cowboys lack the star power the Texans and Eagles have in the trenches, but Whitehair is adjusting to a change at quarterback heading into a hostile environment where noise can be an issue.
Jay Cutler hasn’t practiced all week because of a sprained right thumb. Whitehair will need to establish a rapport quickly with backup Brian Hoyer, whether it’s snaps or cadences.
“Brian has been pretty good back there,” Whitehair said. “I felt like the transition has been smooth. There really hasn’t been too many problems.
“Each [quarterback is] a little bit different. That’s obvious, of course. You just have to respond to the guy that’s back there, and obviously first and foremost, it’s get the ball to him.”
At this point, though, it would be surprising if Whitehair doesn’t handle the transition well.
“He’s a good football player,” Sitton said. “And he’s going to be a great football player. He’s got the strength, the feet, the hands and the brain to do it all. I think I noticed that probably within the first couple days.”