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Center-Guard Flip for Bears is More Than a Coin Toss

The decision whether to start James Daniels and Cody Whitehair at either guard or left tackle is complicated by other line moves in the offseason and by the preferences of new line coach Juan Castillo

The grand experiment of 2019 on the Bears on offensive line occurred at left guard and center.

It shouldn't have really been regarded as an experiment at all.

The Bears moved Cody Whitehair to left guard and put James Daniels at center because they were taking their "natural positions" based on where they played in college.

Later they moved back to where they played in 2018. The line was getting little or no push and injuries to Kyle Long and Ted Larsen meant inexperiened Rashaad Coward would be lining up next to inexperienced center Daniels. The Bears liked the idea of a more experienced player at center to help Coward.

It worked somewhat better as the Bears averaged 101.75 yards rushing over their games with Daniels at left guard and Whitehair at center, but only 80.5 yards rushing when it was reversed.

However, that included the final game when they faced a backup Vikings defense and had their season-high rushing total of 158 yards. It also included Mitchell Trubisky's rushing yardage, which was far better at 147 yards with Whitehair at center and 46 with Daniels at center.

The line allowed one less sack with Daniels at center than Whitehair at center.

When the season ended, Pace said they hadn't decided on which would play center next season.

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"We still have to evaluate that," Pace said. "When we did it (flipped back), it was a solution-based mindset, again, let's settle us down. I think it did help. They're both versatile, both can play guard or center.

"I think when you look at James, he's still one of the youngest players on our team. He's still developing. I think he got a lot better as the season went on. As far as where we're going to put him next year, that is still going to be an evolution."

A day after the season ended, James said he had no preference for either position.

Much of what happens could be impacted by how they address the draft or free agency. If they drafted a center, they could have both James and Whitehair at guard. If they found a right guard, then they have to decide. The ideal situation would be to find a big, mauling right guard in the draft who can aid greatly in the running game, then decide between Whitehair and James.

The analysis of new offensive line coach Juan Castillo will carry a great deal of weight. He'd be studying film of both players over the course of time since being hired to replace Harry Hiestand.

When Castillo looks at film, he'll see how it worked well in 2018 when Daniels played guard and Whitehair center, even during games when they had to play backups at guard after a Long injury.

It's one of the personnel questions they could address when coaches talk to media the week of Feb. 24 in Indianapolis, but because of the impact other positions like right guard could have on it, they may wait all the way until the draft or the start in May of organized team activities to make this apparent.

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