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Pressure Weighs Heavily on Sam Mustipher

For Bears 2021 starting Bears center, it could be a case of adapting simply to keep a job as times have changed on the offensive line.

Of all Bears starting positions open for competition, none seem more undecided than right guard.

Coaches will head into camp or even spring OTAs and minicamp saying all positions are open for competition but only some truly are. Right guard, where James Daniels played last year, really is open because there is no real starting NFL guard involved in the battle.

Dakota Dozier is the most experienced guard being considered but his experience came in Minnesota and he was only a starter for one of his seven seasons.

It's why Sam Mustipher is getting a real shot right now at becoming a starting right guard. Mustipher lost his starting center position to free agent acquisition Lucas Patrick immediately after the former Packer signed in free agency. Mustipher had never played guard.

It's always said a player who can play guard can play center, so does this apply the opposite way? Shouldn't it?

One of the big problems with Mustipher being a guard is his size. Or it could be, anyway. But it's a problem now in a different way than it originally was for Mustipher when he broke into the starting lineup as center.

In fact, no one could blame him from being a bit frustrated with all of this weight discussion occurring. 

Offensive line coach Chris Morgan seemed surprised when asked if Mustipher was even big enough to be a guard, but for good reason. Mustipher might be too big to play it now in this Bears offense.

"I definitely think he's big enough to play," Morgan said. "I definitely think so. As far as size comps, a guy like Andy Levitre has played for me in the past. A guy like Chris Chester has played for me in the past. As far as size you’re talking about. Yeah, I mean, plenty big enough."

Mustipher was rather small even for center when he first began starting in 2020, but last year he went on a mission to bulk up and gain strength. He is now listed at 332 pounds. 

That's heavier than all but two Bears linemen, 333-pound Larry Borom at left tackle and reserve Jean Delance, a 6-5, 357-pound tackle who doesn't seem to fit what the Bears want to do on offense with leaner, more athletic blockers.

Now it seems Mustipher might actually need to lose weight instead of gaining it.

Levitre and Chester both weighed 303 and were nearly the same height, Chester 6-3 and Levitre 6-2. Both had long NFL careers, Chester with Baltimore, Washington and Atlanta from 2006-16 and Levitre from 2009-18 with Buffalo, Tennessee and Atlanta.

The difference with both of those two was they were highly regarded, respected second-round draft picks.

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Mustipher was undrafted. Dozier was a fourth-round Vikings pick and has been blocking with the second-team line in OTAs. He alternated with Mustipher at an earlier veterans minicamp.

If ever a position looked ripe for being stolen away by rookies, it's right guard.

Sixth-rounder Zachary Thomas from San Diego State is 6-5, 308 and seventh-rounder Ja'Tyre Carter from Southern is 6-3, 311. 

"You know, with all these guys that were brought in you see athleticism," Morgan said. "You see guys that can move."

Both seem suited size-wise but in both cases they are trying to convert from college tackle.

For now, they're competing but have a ways to go before they can be considered serious contenders for starting on opening day against San Francisco.

"It's good any time you can add competition," Morgan said. "We definitely did that with the draft."

He's not putting one ahead of the other for now, as both learn the offense.

"Those guys are in the same boat," Morgan said. "They're learning every day. They're learning the new terminology—how we fit blocks, what we're looking for, what our calls are, what the big picture of the scheme is.

"Those guys did a nice job. You could tell they put the work in mentally from the end of that rookie minicamp till we came back. That was a nice surprise by those guys. They did a nice job."

Considering the lack of ideal size/experience with the veteran competition, it would be difficult to imagine neither rookie getting a fair shot at starting right guard during camp at some point.

As for Mustipher, simply winning a roster spot could be challenging.  The Bears didn't just take away his starting spot, they are providing competition for a backup job.

The Bears drafted Illinois center Doug Kramer in Round 6 to challenge starter Lucas Patrick. Mustipher might not even have a position with the team if he can't play guard.

It's a competitive, pressure situation on the interior of the offensive line and it's exactly what GM Ryan Poles and coach Matt Eberflus intended when they started trying to rebuild this group.

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