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Bears up the ante for O-line with G Cody Whitehair in 2nd round

Bears second-round draft pick Cody Whitehair was a four-year starter — two years at guard and two at tackle —  for Kansas State. (Parker Robb/The Collegian)

The Bears took a slight detour in their quest for playmakers to upgrade the offensive line by trading down in the second round of the NFL draft Friday to select Kansas State guard Cody Whitehair with the 56th overall pick.

On a team that needs a lot of help coming off a 6-10 season, Whitehair doesn’t exactly fill a gaping hole. The Bears have six-year veteran Matt Slauson, who just turned 30, at left guard. Three-time Pro Bowl lineman Kyle Long is expected to move to right guard after the signing of veteran right tackle Bobby Massie in free agency.

“Just wanted to create more competition there, honestly,” Bears general manager Ryan Pace said. “We see him as a guard. He played some tackle and I think he can play center, too. This is what you’re looking for in an offensive lineman. He’s smart. He’s tough. He’s instinctive. He loves the weight room — those are all things I like. A good player we’re excited to have. A versatile player.”

That versatility throughout the offensive line allows the Bears to start the five best offensive linemen. Long could still move to left tackle, opening up a guard spot. “I would rule anything out for Kyle,” Pace said. “He can play anywhere.”

Pace would not even commit to bringing Slauson to training camp. “We haven’t even gotten that far yet,” Pace said. “We’re just adding talent and we’ll let it all sort out.”

It’s all in the name of competition. Second-year center Hroniss Grasu, left tackle Charles Leno, Jr. and even Slauson are on notice.

“Every single one of those offensive linemen is getting pushed,” Pace said. “I think that’s what they would expect. We’re going to try to do that at every single position on the roster.”

In a draft where Pace came in looking for playmakers, the opportunity to acquire more picks trumped the need for a potential difference-maker at No. 41. By trading down from No. 41 to No. 49 and then to No. 56 in the second round, Pace picked up three additional draft picks — Nos. 117 and 124 in the fourth round this year; and Buffalo’s fourth-round pick in 2017 — to give Pace seven picks in rounds 4-7 on Saturday. And he still got the player he wanted at No. 56 in Whitehair. 

“At some point in this draft I wanted to acquire more picks,” Pace said. “This night couldn’t have worked out better for us in regards to that. The draft’s deep. There’s a lot of guys that we still have good grades on.

“And that’s why it’s so exciting. This late at night [10:45 p.m.] I’ve never walked out of a draft room with scouts more excited because  of what we can do with those additional picks. Everyone’s fired up.  And that makes me feel good, because I have a lot of confidence in them.”

The 6-4, 305-pound Whitehair started at left tackle the last two seasons at Kansas State, but started mostly at left guard his freshman and sophomore seasons. With his short arms (32 3/8 inch reach), his NFL future is considered to be at guard. NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock rated Whitehair the No. 1 guard in the draft following the scouting combine.

“Coach Magazu [Dave Magazu, the Bears’ offensive line coach] just said, ‘Make sure you’re ready to play,’” Whitehair said. “I’m going to play wherever the coaches need me to play. I’m just excited to get on the field.”

Whitehair, who turns 24 on July 11, said he models his game after Dallas Cowboys All-Pro guard Zack Martin. “He’s kind of the guy I’ve watched the past couple of years,” Whitehair said. “Just a great player. Great technician. And he gets the job done. That’s what I want to model my play after.”

Long, a three-time Pro Bowl player at guard and tackle, figures to be a good mentor for Whitehair.

“I know he’s a great player, a Pro Bowl kind of guy,” Whitehair said. “He’s going to be a great teacher for me. I’m looking forward to playing with him.”

Whitehair, from Abilene, Kan., a four-year starter, was a first-team All-Big 12 selection at left tackle and a first-team academic All-Big 12 selection as a fifth-year senior in 2015. He was a second-team All-Big 12 selection as a sophomore at left guard and a junior at left tackle.

He might not get a chance to show off that versatility in the NFL, but it still helped mold him as a competitor and team player.

“It was huge,” he said. “It really showed me that versatility is key — doing things you have to do for the team, even though they might be tough. It just taught me how to work through the adversity, so it taught me a lot. It taught me a lot  about being a great [team] guy, too.”