Know Your Bears — The Centers & Guards

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Along with three-time Pro Bowler Kyle Long, Cody Whitehair (65) and Josh Sitton (71) should give the Bears a rock solid interior offensive line. (Jeff Haynes/AP Images for Panini)

Fifth in a position-by-position series of training-camp capsules on every player on the Bears’ 90-man roster. The Bears open training camp July 27 at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais.



Guard      Fifth year

6-6, 320      Oregon

Acquired: First-round draft pick (20th overall) in 2014.

Age: 28

NFL experience: 55 games (55 starts) in four seasons.

Background: Considered by some a reach when Bears GM Phil Emery took Long in the first round in 2013, Long became an immediate starter and made the Pro Bowl his first three seasons — at right guard in 2013 and 2014 and at right tackle in 2015. Long moved back to right guard in 2016 and signed a four-year, $40 million contract ($30 million guaranteed). But he suffered torn ligaments in his right ankle in Week 10 against the Buccaneers that required surgery and ended his season.

Notable: Though he played in 54 of his first 55 games with the Bears through Week 7 of last season, Long has developed a history of injuries. He played through a torn labrum early last season, missed Week 8 with a triceps injury, then suffered the torn ankle ligaments.

The skinny: Long has been considered pound-for-pound the Bears’ best player in recent years, but he has a lot to prove in 2017 — that he can get healthy, stay healthy and be as good as he’s been even when he’s not 100 percent. It’s a critical year for him to re-establish himself.




Guard        10th year

6-4, 315     Central Florida

Acquired: Signed as a free agent in 2016.

Age: 31

NFL experience: 134 games (124 starts) in nine seasons, plus 13 playoff games (13 starts).

Background: A fourth-round draft pick (135th overall) by the Packers in 2008, Sitton became a starter in his second season and started 123 of the Packers’ 125 games (including playoffs) through the 2015 season. Made the Pro Bowl at right guard in 2012 and at left guard in 2013-14. Unceremoniously cut by the Packers after the preseason in 2016 and immediately signed by the Bears — a three-year, $21 million deal ($10 million guaranteed). Sitton started 12 games and made the Pro Bowl as an alternate.

Notable: Sitton, who missed just two games in eight years with the Packers and had consecutive-game streaks of 75 and 59 games, missed four games because of a bum ankle last year and did not started more than six consecutive games. He was slowed in the offseason program by an upper-body injury.

The skinny: Sitton, ranked the third best guard in the NFL in pass-blocking by Pro Football Focus, still is at the top of his game and should be part of an outstanding interior offensive line. But at 31, the wear-and-tear of nine NFL seasons bears watching.




Center Second season

6-3, 310 Kansas State

Acquired: Second-round draft pick (56th overall) in 2016.

Age: 25

NFL experience: 16 games (16 starts) in one season.

Background: Four-year starter (51 games) at left guard, right guard, left tackle and right tackle at Kansas State. Opened training camp last year as the starter at left guard but moved to center after Hroniss Grasu suffered a torn ACL on Aug. 5 and started all 16 games and played 1,008-of-1010 offensive snaps. Made the Pro Football Writers all-rookie team. Ranked sixth among NFL centers — and the Bears’ highest rated offensive lineman —  by Pro Football Focus.

Notable: A testament to Whitehair’s improvement as his rookie season progressed, he was called for just one penalty in the final 10 games after being penalized four times in the first six games.

The skinny: After establishing himself as a potentially elite player at a position he never played in college, expectations are high for Whitehair to reach a Pro Bowl level in 2017. With the advantage of his first offseason, training camp and preseason at center — and presumably playing between Kyle Long and Josh Sitton —  that’s a pretty logical next step.




Center        Third year

6-3, 303      Oregon

Acquired: Third-round draft pick (71st overall) in 2015.

Age: 26

NFL experience: Eight games (eight starts) in one season.

Background: Became the starter in Week 5 as a rookie after Will Montgomery suffered a season-ending fractured tibia, but missed three games with a neck injury. Had an uneven rookie season, but was better at the end than at the beginning and showed enough promise to earn the starting job in 2016 — but he suffered a torn ACL just 10 days into training camp at Family Fest at Soldier Field and was out for the season.

Notable: Grasu was an honorable mention selection on Mel Kiper’s all-rookie team in 2015.

The skinny: Even if he is fully recovered from the injury, Grasu is in a tough spot after rookie Cody Whitehair established himself as a potential Pro Bowl center last season. The Bears consider Grasu a center exclusively, so he’s not as valuable as a back-up. Still, he was in position to establish himself as a quality starter when he was injured last year, so the Bears figure to keep him around as a good insurance policy.




Guard/center Fourth season

6-4, 313 California (Pa.)

Acquired: Signed as a free agent in 2016.

Age: 27

NFL experience: 18 games (five starts) in three seasons..

Background: A sixth-round draft pick out of Division II California of Pennsylvania in 2013, Kush played in three games in two seasons with Kansas City. He was cut five times within a 12-month span — by the Chiefs, Buccaneers, Panthers, Texans and Rams — before the Bears signed him prior to Week 1 last year. Though primarily a center, Kush started four games in place of Josh Sitton last season and earned high marks and was rewarded with a two-year extension in February.

Notable: For what it’s worth, Kush was the Bears’ highest graded offensive linemen against the Titans last season.

The skinny: After playing for six teams in a one-year span, Kush seems to finally be at the right place at the right time in the Bears’ zone-blocking scheme. At his current rate of progression, he could be a starter-quality back-up — a valuable asset on a team whose starting guards missed 12 games last season.




Center        Fifth year

6-2, 225     Humboldt State

Acquired: Signed as a free agent in 2017.

Age: 30

NFL experience: 12 games (two starts) in four seasons.

Background: Signed with the Jets as an undrafted free agent out of Division II Humboldt State in 2011 but spent the season on injured reserve and was cut in 2012. Made the Bears’ 53-man roster in 2013 and played in one game. Played in four games with the Bears in 2014 before being waived with an injury settlement. Played in two games with the Lions in 2015. Signed with the Cardinals last year, was waived/injured in the preseason, but re-signed in November and started at right guard in Weeks 15-16 before suffering a shoulder injury in the first quarter against the Seahawks.

Notable: Boggs played left guard, right guard and center in the NFL.

The skinny: A former walk-on at Humboldt State who now has made an NFL team four times, Boggs’ perseverance can’t be overlooked. He’s a long shot to make the roster, but his versatility and NFL experience — and determination —  could factor in his favor.




Guard          Rookie

6-5, 295      James Madison

Acquired: Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2017.

Age: 22

NFL experience: None.

Background: Three-year starter at right tackle at James Madison who was dominant at the FCS level — a first-team All-American as a fifth-year senior in 2016. Part of an offensive line that allowed nine sacks all season and a high-powered offense that was second in FCS in scoring (46.7 points per game) — including 50 or more points in six games — and set Colonial Athletic Conference records for points (700), rushing offense (4,125 yards), total offense (7,612) and first downs (380).

Notable: In high school, Kirsch was named his team’s offensive player of the year as an offensive lineman. College teammate of Bears tight end Daniel Brown.

The skinny: Though Kirsch was an All-America tackle in college, he was moved to guard with the Bears and did not look out of place in offseason practices. With Eric Kush a proven back-up and rookie Jordan Morgan a fifth-round draft pick ahead of him, Kirsch’s best bet — barring injuries — likely is the practice squad.




Guard       Rookie

6-3, 309    Kutztown (Pa.)

Acquired: Fifth-round draft pick (147th overall) in 2017.

Age: 24

NFL experience: None.

Background: A former walk-on at Kutztown who did not play organized football until his senior year of high school, Morgan went from a 235-pound red-shirt freshman who looked more like a tight end than a lineman to a 315-pound left tackle and winner of the Gene Upshaw Award given to the top offensive lineman in Division II.  Played in and started 43 of 44 games in four years. Two-time Division II All-American (2015-16). Two-time captain. Graduated in December. Was the first offensive lineman to be named his conference’s Offensive Athlete of the Year (2016).

Notable: Morgan was the only player on the North team in the Senior Bowl that was coached by John Fox and the Bears staff to be drafted or signed by the Bears.

The skinny: Relatively late bloomer has potential as an athlete who — like another small-school prospect Adam Shaheen — maintained his quickness and athleticism as he got bigger. Probably needs a redshirt year, but with Josh Sitton and Kyle Long coming off injuries, Morgan likely will get a chance to prove he’s ready now.




Guard      Fourth year

6-5, 343   Baylor

Acquired: Signed to the practice squad in Week 11 in 2016.

Age: 26

NFL experience: 12 games (four starts) in three seasons.

Background: A two-time All-American at Baylor and an Outland Trophy finalist — with winner Aaron Donald and Jake Matthews. A fifth-round draft pick (153rd overall) by the Bills in 2014, Richardson started four games as a rookie, but spend the 2015 season on the Bills’ practice squad and was released in the cutdown to 53 in 2016 before the Bears signed him to their practice squad in Week 11.

Notable: Richardson won the Jim Parker Award winner as the nation’s best offensive lineman in 2013 and was ranked the No. 1 senior interior offensive lineman for the 2014 draft — ahead of Notre Dame’s Zack Martin early in the season. He still was projected as a first-round pick at the end of the season. But struggled at the Senior Bowl and eventually dropped to the fifth round.

The skinny: The Bears must have seen something they liked because they signed Richardson to a futures contract after he spent seven weeks on the practice squad. Battling for a back-up spot at this point, and an uphill climb at that.

Follow me on Twitter @MarkPotash



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