When the Chicago Bears lost left guard James Daniel in a Week 5 Prime Time victory against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, many fans and analysts wondered who would step up and anchor the position. A few weeks later, center Cody Whitehair was sidelined with a calf injury. Wouldn’t you know it? Shortly after that, right guard Germain Ifedi joined the COVID-19/reserve list. It didn’t stop there as another addition to the Injury Reserve came in the form of Bobby Massie.Â
After the injury bug left the Offensive line in shambles, only Charles Leno was left standing among the line that started the season for the Bears in Detroit Week One. These conditions forced the Bears to reach into practice squad reserves, calling on former Notre Dame Center Sam Mustipher into the starting lineup. What happened next shocked the fanbase. Mustipher provided a solid and consistent option in week eight against the New Orleans Saints only to injure his knee, sidelining him for two weeks. His return performance in week ten against the Detroit Lions gained him the starting spot to close out the season.
Sam Mustipher: the 2021 starting center
In preparation for the 2021 season, I’m anticipating that Sam Mustipher will return to the starting center role. Sam, as centers often do, hasÂ become a leaderÂ on the offensive line. He has also developed a great relationship with running back David Montgomery. Considering his position on the roster, I think Sam Mustipher receives the tape breakdown he deserves. So here we go. Here is a rundown of Sam Mustipher, his areas of strength, and places where I think he can improve.Â
The guiding questions
In an analysis of interior offensive linemen, here the questions I ask while watching the film. How quick is he off the ball? Is he engaging defenders with his hands before his body? Does he hold the block throughout the play? Is he being tossed around? Is he throwing the defender around? Are his feet constantly moving, or is he pretending to be a tree in the local school play?
To begin with Sam Mustipher, I find a solid and reliable option at the center position. According to PFF, he delivered 334 snaps in passing plays and only allowed one sack in the seven games he started. That would place him T-19th amongst centers in the league. His PFF grade in the running game is 63.4, not a bad place to be for a former practice squad member.
The primary function of the center is to snap the ball to the quarterback cleanly. In his seven starts, I could not find a particularly egregious snap. I would find an occasional slow or off-target snap in the shotgun. But it is nearly impossible to remain 100% consistent at the position, especially after bashing heads with linemen for three quarters.Â
Impressive second-level athleticism
The first thing you notice about Mustipher is his athleticism. His ability to jump off his snap is something that every center needs to succeed in professional football. His ability to snap and get upfield to engage in the second level of defenders is a strength that cannot be understated.
In the video provided, I give two examples of Mustipher’s ability to engage with linebackers, removing them from the play. Mustipher has this unique ability to adjust on the fly. Although his defender has him on his heels, Mustipher twists his body to tie up the defender, buying the play enough time to leave the line of scrimmage. Mustipher having to rely on this ability is not ideal. I would prefer to see a lineman that completes the block using both strength and athleticism. Still, honestly, if it does not cost yards, it is not something that must change.Â
A need to improve his strength
On his overall strength, we find a need for improvement. In Week ten against the Lions, there were about ten or so plays where he gets flat-out beat. Do not expect Mustipher to pancake a defender; instead, he is a textbook example of the fundamental blocking technique. His hands are close to his chest before punching out to grab onto the defender’s chest. Offensive line coach Juan Castillo told reporters in December that Mustipher added 15 pounds by the end of the season, commenting, “He was about 305 or so, and now he’s 320 pounds. There’s a difference.”Â
To take the next step, Mustipher has to be better at adjusting to blitzes. The center’s secondary function is to read blitz packages and call protection audibles on the line. The clip provided shows Mustipher recognizing blitz in the A gap, yet his left guard Alex Bars doesn’t pick it up in time. Mustipher does not have a problem peeling off defenders. His ability to engage and re-engage is one reason he continues to play the position. Former starting center and current guard Cody Whitehair thinks he has quickly remedied this issue. In December, Whitehair stated, “You know, he’s done great with I.D-ing everything, getting us all on the same page.”Â
Centers are tasked with a lot, and Mustipher does it all well. I don’t consider him a pro-bowl future Hall of Famer on these past seven games alone. I think he has too many issues regarding blitz schemes, and his strength is nothing to write home about. But I think he has the potential to be a solid long-term starter.Â
Last offseason, Colts pro-bowl guard Quenton Nelson stayed in the Chicagoland area to assist Sam Mustipher and Alex Bars prepare for the season. Suppose Mustipher continues to train with talent such as Nelson and continues to develop. In that case, I may be biting my own words. I hope I end up doing so.