Versatile Josh Sitton unfazed by position switch with Kyle Long

The interior of the Bears’ offensive line is considered a strength of the team.

Right guard Kyle Long has played in three Pro Bowls and is considered pound-for-pound the team’s best player. Left guard Josh Sitton has made the Pro Bowl four times, including last season as an alternate, even though he didn’t join the Bears until Week 1 after being cut by the Packers. And center Cody Whitehair not only established himself as a durable starter from Week 1 last year, but also ranked among the best in the NFL.

That’s a pretty good foundation for a team rebuilding from seasons of 6-10 and 3-13. But the Bears are so focused on improving, they’re even willing to mess with a good thing.

That’s one way of putting it, anyway. So make of it what you will that the Bears are tinkering with the idea of flipping Sitton and Long for the 2017 season.

Bears guard Josh Sitton was named to his fourth Pro Bowl last year as an alternate. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

“I don’t think anything’s set in stone yet,” Sitton said. “But they’re going to try it out and see what happens.”

The offensive line experiment typifies the current state of the Bears. Not only are they messing with two of the team’s best players, but neither player is even healthy right now. Long is on a long road to recovery from a dastardly ankle injury and a partially torn labrum that limited him to eight games last season. He did not participate in the opening of minicamp Tuesday. Sitton was active at minicamp, but did not participate in team drills because of a chest injury.

Sitton expects to be ready for training camp on July 25. “That’s the plan,” he said. The Bears are hoping Long also will be ready, but it’s going to be tight. Coach John Fox estimated Long still is six or seven weeks away. The Bears report to camp six weeks from Wednesday.

But whenever they are ready, it appears Long will be at left guard and Sitton at right guard.

“We’re messing around with [Sitton] and Kyle both playing opposite sides,” Fox said. “We’ll get those looks in camp. We’ve got plenty of time.”

With continuity and chemistry at such a premium on the offensive line, it seems like a curious move. What’s the benefit of flipping Long and Sitton?

“A lot of different things I don’t quite want to get into,” Fox said. “But versatility is important — I’ll give you that much.”

From an individual standpoint, the position switches shouldn’t be that difficult. Sitton played left guard in his first four seasons as a starter with the Packers, making the Pro Bowl after the 2012 season. Long is a great athlete who is accustomed to switching positions — he moved from right guard to right tackle in 2015 and back to right guard last season.

“O-line, any position is muscle memory,” Sitton said. “So it takes time to get your body  back to that stance and your hand placement and things like that. But being that I’ve done it before, it’s not as big of a transition.”

And while chemistry is important, having Pro Bowl-caliber players solves many issues. The Bears’ two best linemen last year came out of the blue. Sitton arrived at Halas Hall six days before the season opener. Whitehair was moved from left guard to center —  a position he didn’t even play in college — only after Hroniss Grasu suffered a torn ACL at Family Fest, 10 days into training camp. It’s too easy to pile on the Bears these days, but this is one time they are operating from a position of strength.

Follow me on Twitter @MarkPotash.



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