Bears Position Group Outlook: Germain Ifedi Holds Line's Key
The task before Bears offensive line coach Juan Castillo appears to be daunting at the very least.
He might face the most difficult assignment of all the new coaches on the Bears staff and has been given virtually no upgrade to work his magic.
Two non-guards will compete for the right guard spot—Germain Ifedi played mostly tackle in Seattle and Rashaad Coward has been a guard for 10 games but was initially converted from defense to play offensive tackle.
GM Ryan Pace's only other significant line addition was third tackle Jason Spriggs.
So Castillo has what he has and it isn't much better than last year's personnel but he must make use of it. Coach Matt Nagy is certain it can get done because of his faith in Castillo.
"I know how he thinks," Nagy said. "And I have ultimate trust in how he's gonna build what he wants to do with that offensive line. Fundamentally he'll have a plan. Schematically he'll have a plan. And then as a teacher and as a friend with those guys, he'll have a plan.
"So from all areas, he's going to stress every one of those guys in the right way and teach them how to play the game and how to do it the right way. There's a big comfort there."
Even with the plans Nagy sees forming for each lineman, there has to be serious doubts about whether it can get done.
Not everyone thinks it's entirely hopeless, however. Often critical of the Bears in many areas, Pro Football Focus' offensive line analysis says they "...they have the pieces to rank among the top 10-15 offensive lines in the league."
This is how bad the line was last year and what needs to be corrected:
According to Football Outsiders, the Bears ranked next to last in the league in succeeding with runs when they faced third down or fourth down with 2 yards or less to go, whether for first down or touchdown. They succeeded 50% of the time, better only than Carolina. Getting the tough yardage is one of the most basic tasks for any offensive line.
Considering the Bears had an extra dimension to their running game with a quarterback who might tuck it and had the speed to gain big yards outside off short-yardage fakes, they were all the more incompetent at this.
Although the Bears' line didn't allow backs to be stuffed behind the line an inordinate amount of times—18% of runs went for losses, which was the eighth-lowest percentage in the league—they couldn't move the defense anywhere. They ranked next to last according to Football Outsiders at yardage gained between 5 and 10 yards per attempt, or second-level yards.
David Montgomery had only five runs of 10 yards or more all season and the rushing game overall was 30th in the league at making runs of 10 yards or longer.
Basically, the offensive line ranked 25th overall according to Pro Football Focus and the website has set them as the No. 22 line for this season, which indicates they doubt much will change regardless of Castillo.
Individually, Charles Leno Jr. had his worst pass-blocking grade since 2015 according to Pro Football Focus, while consistent Bobby Massie suffered due to injuries. PFF heaped praise on both James Daniels and Cody Whitehair and expects both to be among the league's better run blockers if they are allowed to stay in one position.
So much will depend on the right guard spot and whether Pace is correct about Germain Ifedi being a better guard than a tackle, because he struggled greatly for three years playing outside in Seattle.
"We just see that as a competition where you got a guy with a lot of experience in Germain Ifedi versus a guy with not as much experience, but two really good guys that we have a lot of belief in, with an offensive line coach in Juan Castillo that believes heavily in both of them," Bears coach Matt Nagy said Wednesday. "Competition across the board and I just think for them, just like other positions, we gotta be really detailed with how we give reps and with how we evaluate that position."
Castillo says his secret to turning around a line is simply through repetition and getting linemen to want to work on their own.
"This is my 25th year and that's how I've had success," Castillo said.
Considering what's facing them, he's going to do a heavy sales job on linemen to make it work.