The Bears’ decision to sign guard Josh Sitton isn’t an indictment of rookie Cody Whitehair’s development. It might be further proof of the team’s belief in him.
Sitton’s surprise availability and overnight signing will force the Bears to reshuffle their offensive line with less than a week to prepare for the Texans and superstar end J.J. Watt.
Whitehair, the Bears’ second-round pick, has been the starting left guard since organized team activities, earning high praise from coach John Fox, quarterback Jay Cutler and nose tackle Eddie Goldman, among others.
But Sitton’s arrival demands change. He was the Packers’ starting left guard the past three seasons. In his career, he has 47 starts at left guard and 64 on the right side, where Kyle Long, when healthy, is entrenched.
Add it all up, and it appears as if a move to center is in Whitehair’s future.
“Right now, looking at it, I think it’s his best position,” Fox said Monday of Whitehair playing center. “Unfortunately, prior to the acquisition of Josh, we weren’t real fluid to put him there a whole lot, but he has had reps.”
Whitehair’s limited work at center came during a reserve appearance in the preseason, the scrimmage at Soldier Field and practices during training camp.
But Fox didn’t sound discouraged by the sparseness of his work.
“[Whitehair is] very athletic,” Fox said. “He understands the game. He plays it kind of beyond his years, as far as experience-wise.
“So we’re still early in the process. I don’t want to get too much into it yet, because we’re still proving ourselves.”
Veteran Ted Larsen was the first option at center after Hroniss Grasu tore his right anterior cruciate ligament on Aug. 6.
The difference between now and then is that Whitehair can now be insulated at center between two of the best guards in the NFL. T
here will be growing pains, but Long and Sitton can help Whitehair with calls. Larsen and waiver-wire addition Eric Kush provide experienced competition for Whitehair.
“[Whitehair is] smart and athletic,” Long said. “A lot of our stuff is based on running and getting out in space, and he’s a guy that does that well. We’ll give him an opportunity to do that.
“I don’t know what we’re going to do with the lineups. I know that our room got a lot better when we added Josh.”
Overall, general manager Ryan Pace believes having Sitton around will turn Whitehair into a better player.
“Whitehair is a hungry rookie that has an extremely bright future ahead of him,” Pace said. “Having a veteran like Sitton that’s played at a high level, that helps him. I’m glad those guys are in the same room together.”