When running back David Montgomery was asked about the impact of the revamped offensive line after the Bears’ 36-7 rout of the Texans on Sunday, the first and only player he mentioned was the most unheralded: center Sam Mustipher.
“Sam coming in and leading the charge — that’s big,” Montgomery said. “He came in the same year as me . You’d think he has been in the league 10, 11, 12 years, the way he coaches out there. He just takes charge. He’s the general on the line, and they believe and buy in.”
An undrafted free agent who spent all of last season and the first five games of this season on the Bears’ practice squad, Mustipher seemed like a stopgap against the Rams and Saints when he filled in for starter Cody Whitehair, who had a calf injury and was on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
But the unassuming Notre Dame product has made an impression in four starts — not only as a productive player but as an infectious leader.
“It seems to come really, really naturally for him,” offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said. “One of the greatest compliments I can give Sam is that when his name is brought up in front of the group, the reaction of the team — offensive and defensive players — the cheer that came up almost took me back.
“I can’t remember what coach [Matt Nagy] mentioned him for — something in front of the team. But the reaction showed what the team thinks of him.”
Mustipher missed two games with a knee injury he suffered in his first start against the Saints. Whitehair returned in the meantime, but when Mustipher was healthy, the Bears found room for him — starting him at center and moving Whitehair to left guard.
Offensive line coach Juan Castillo said Mustipher has graded the same as Whitehair did at center and has earned a longer look as a long-term solution on the line.
“I think Sam is a starting center in this league,” said Castillo, who remembers Mus-tipher’s high school ball in Owings Mill, Maryland, where Mustipher was a starting tackle on a team quarterbacked by Castillo’s son. “I know who Sam really is from his young days. I know what kind of person Sam is, and he’s the type of guy that we all want to be.”
A four-star recruit out of high school, Mustipher was a three-year starter at Notre Dame (2016-18) but was overshadowed by more celebrated offensive linemen: first-round picks Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey and tackle Alex Bars, who went undrafted in 2019 after suffering a knee injury.
But at a position where unheralded players thrive in the NFL, Mustipher now has a chance. The team is behind him.
“I’m not really concerned with [popularity],” Mustipher said. “I just want the guys to look at me as somebody who comes in every day and does his job and is consistent no matter what’s going on — on or off the field. That’s really important to me. But if my teammates deem me as such, that’s awesome. Doing my job is the most important thing.”