Chicago Bears Mailbag: Justin Fields, Trenches talk, and more

With the Chicago Bears‘ first preseason game set to take place on Saturday afternoon, Usayd Koshul answers various questions regarding the Bears in his latest mailbag.

1. Thoughts on the retooling process now that Justin Fields is QB1?

Really good actually. With Fields now in the fold, the Bears focus should shift to building around him on offense. As generic as that sounds, Chicago does have some players on offense in line for contract extensions next offseason. We all know star wide receiver Allen Robinson is due for a payday but don’t forget about OL James Daniels who’s heading into a contract year, along with running back David Montgomery who’ll be eligible for an extension next offseason.

Speaking of extensions, the Bears just picked up the fifth-year option for LB Roquan Smith. Here’s what I’ll say: Chicago needs to extend Robinson and Smith first, then focus on Daniels to keep the interior of the OL intact. To create additional cap space, designate OLB  Robert Quinn as a post-June first cut in 2022, a move that should create about $12M in cap space.

Fields adds flexibility to the Bears’ future plans. For a quarterback who’s got the potential to develop into a franchise-caliber player, all Fields must do is progress enough to the point where the Bears can lock up key players until it’s time to pay Fields, which will be a conversation for the 2023 or 2024 offseason.

 

2. Why can’t the organization commit to figuring out the OL?

Trust me, it’s a question that drives all of us crazy, myself included. If you’ve been listening to our weekly podcast, I’ve said that Ryan Pace neglecting the offensive line from 2017-2019 finally caught up to the Bears in 2020. Between that same span, the Bears drafted just two offensive lineman: Jordan Morgan (fifth-round in 2017) and James Daniels (second-round, 2018).

Pace has consistently shown that he’s always willing to go ahead and trust his own players, which is fine but at some point, you need to cut bait, rather than hold onto players too long, something that Pace has been notorious for doing. And guess what, Pace drafted two offensive line in the 2021 NFL Draft (Teven Jenkins and Larry Borom) making it the second time in seven seasons that Pace has taken two or more offensive lineman in the same NFL Draft.

The blame starts with Pace but ends with the coaching staff. Why hasn’t the coaching staff been able to get the most out of guys like Arlington Hambright or Lachavious Simmons? Matt Nagy’s staff has developed undrafted free agents such as Alex Bars and Sam Mustipher but Nagy being an offensive-minded coach needs to make investing in the OL a priority.

To close out this question, I went back and looked at draft classes of the Kansas City Chiefs since Andy Reid arrived in 2013, the same year that Nagy was appointed as the Chiefs QB coach. Reid has drafted 10 offensive lineman since 2013, including taking two or more offensive line three times (2013, 2014, and 2021), while also continuing to develop at a high rate.

3. Offensive Explosion and an NFC North title?

This would be sweet. After spending a few days attending training camp at Halas Hall, I can tell you that the Bears are ready to surprise some people heading into 2021. The defense appears to be due for a bounceback season but the offense needs to get going if the Bears are contending for the NFC North title in 2021.

Nothing is possible in the NFL, let’s be honest but if Andy Dalton is starting against the Los Angeles Rams in week one, Dalton will need to play nearly perfect every week if the Bears want to have a shot at winning the division. Justin Fields’ playmaking ability does give the Bears a slightly more explosive offense and that’s because Fields mobility and 4.4 40-yard dash makes the Bears offense lethal on RPO’s, especially when David Montgomery is in the backfield.

The Bears offense should be more explosive in 2021, regardless of who’s at quarterback, so buckle up because it’s about to be a fun season.

4. Young, emerging talent on the roster

First off, I really appreciate the two-part question here but I’m going to answer just the second question about young talent on the roster. There’s a lot so let’s start by looking at the Bears 2020 draft class. The Bears had seven draft picks and I do believe three players (Cole Kmet, Jaylon Johnson, and Darnell Mooney) will be part of the Bears’ core moving forward. Keep an eye on OLB Trevis Gipson and CB Kindle Vildor as two solid options who could develop into serviceable starters down the road.

I also like OL James Daniels, the 39th overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. If Daniels can stay healthy and put together a consistent season at left guard, he could earn a nice payday next offseason, cementing his status as a cornerstone of the offensive line. By the way, don’t forget Sam Mustipher, who’s looked faster and stronger throughout training camp. Mustipher has an opportunity to be a mainstay on the Bears’ offensive line, giving the Bears their first long-term starter at the Center position since Olin Kreutz.

Perhaps the most intriguing player on this list is 2021 undrafted free agent Charles Snowden, who has drawn comparisons to former Bears’ first-round pick Leonard Floyd. Snowden has been praised at training camp by coaches, which means that he could wind up as a hidden gem that develops into a contributor as early as 2022.

5. Let’s talk about CB2?

It’s hard to pick a winner right now when discussing CB2 for the Bears. It’ll come down to either Kindle Vildor or Desmond Trufant but I’d lean more towards Vildor, who’s drawn praise from coaches this offseason for his work ethic. Prior to training camp, Trufant being the surefire CB2 was something many expected, however, Trufant is only signed to a one-year deal worth $1M, with no guaranteed money, making him an easy cap casualty.

“Kindle showed that he belongs in this league, last year and the reps that he took last year,” Defensive Coordinator Sean Desai said via the Bears official YouTube channel. “So I think he’s going to have a chance to compete at various positions. We’re going to have a lot of competition at the nickel as well. We’ve had guys that have played there in games.”

It’s still early but Vildor appears to be pulling ahead each day and with a strong showing in preseason and over the final two weeks of training camp, Vildor will have an opportunity to win the race outright.

 

Cohesion is a key for Chicago Bears OL Sam Mustipher

One of the most exciting players to watch for the Chicago Bears during the 2021 regular season, center Sam Mustipher quietly started seven games for the Bears in 2020, quickly showcasing why he’s ready to become a key part of the Bears offensive line for years to come. Chicago has lacked a consistent presence at the center position since the franchise cut ties with Olin Kreutz in 2010.

Entering year three, the starting job at center is Mustipher’s to lose. Centers can be considered the quarterbacks of the offensive line and for someone who’s developing into a leader for the Bears, the former undrafted free agent knows what the Bears offensive line must do to become a top unit in 2021.

“Offensive line is a unique position in that five guys have to be on the same page on every single snap,” said Mustipher via the Bears official Youtube channel. “Anytime you get the opportunity to work together as a unit and build that cohesion overtime, it takes reps, it takes plays, it takes a lot of work, a lot of time.”

Over the last three seasons, one key issue for the Bears under head coach Matt Nagy, the Bears have struggled to find any sort of chemistry on the offensive line, which has impacted offensive production. Heading into 2021, with one new starter at left tackle in OT Teven Jenkins, the hope is that the Bears’ offensive line gels quickly enough to where a top unit emerges.

“There’s a lot of time and effort that we put into building a relationship and building trust within the unit so we’re seeing things through one set of eyes,” said Mustipher.

For Mustipher, a simple formula exists: The quicker the Bears offensive line gels, the better the entire offense can perform. As Chicago continues to prepare for the 2021 regular season, cohesion and chemistry will be key for a unit that was overhauled during the offseason under the guidance of offensive line coach Juan Castillo.

Chicago Bears Breakdown: Sam Mustipher is a quality center with solid upside

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. 

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, has become a leader 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. 

The Breakdown

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?

PFF Grading

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.

Clean snaps?

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. 

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. 

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.” 

Blitz adjustment

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.” 

Conclusion

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. 

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.

Watch for yourself: