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How Sam Mustipher Fits into Future of Bears Offensive Line

The former Notre Dame center has taken over the position because of injuries and other reasons but offensive line coach Juan Castillo sees this as more than a temporary situation

Anyone who thought of Sam Mustipher's rise to starting Bears center as temporary could be in for a real surprise.

The rationale behind such thinking seems sound, since James Daniels would return next year as a starting left guard and this would mean Cody Whitehair could return to center. Or Daniels could return as center and Whitehair could stay at guard. They always had problems trying to figure out which worked better.

However, offensive line coach Juan Castillo indicated something else would occur during his talk Monday with Bears media members.

"That's a ways off and I think there'll be some good competition," Castillo said, first when asked.

But Mustipher, it seems, is simply too good to put back on the bench even though he was an undrafted free agent.

"I think he's proven," Castillo said. "I think the key about Sam is that he's a great leader. The guys respect him.

"When he says something to them, like the other day in the game when he went up to David (Montgomery) and said, 'Uh, David, right here, there's a hole, you hit this, you missed it, you know?' He's able to talk to the guys like that and they respect that. Sometimes that's worth a lot more, especially as a center, than you would think."

Players have universally praised Mustipher, including the player he took over at center for, Whitehair.

"He's really done a great job," Whitehair said. "You know, he's done great with I.D.-ing everything, getting us all on the same page."

It's critical for centers to make line changes in blocking assignments based on defensive looks and Mustipher has handled it like a veteran, even though he's in his second year.

"I think that's the biggest role of the center is making sure all our guys are on the same page and he's done a great job with that," Whitehair said. "So that's definitely helped our offense for sure."

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So then the issue is where James Daniels goes. Daniels has played left guard and center. 

It sounds as if the long-range plan could be moving him to right guard.

"You talk about James being a center, sometimes you're used to playing both sides, so I think that yes, there's going to be some good competition and we'll be really good inside," Castillo said.

The Bears would have to decide whether Daniels or Whitehair fit in better at guard and what they want to do at right tackle with Germain Ifedi's contract up after this year.

Ifedi was the right guard before Alex Bars moved in there. Then they moved Ifedi outside to tackle, where he struggled while with Seattle. He has been up and down at tackle in Chicago, but not nearly to the low level he played with the Seahawks.

Would Bars be a fit at tackle with Daniels playing right guard? Or would Bars move out and become a right or left tackle? It's one of the unclear paths ahead. Could Daniels even do that? 

It's strange how the entire line has changed and also its future based on a few injuries and COVID-19.

"Sam got an opportunity, Alex got an opportunity," Castillo said. "When you get an opportunity you take the most advantage of it for whatever reason you get it, whether COVID, whether injuries."

Castillo admitted he's no big fan of baseball and couldn't recall Lou Gehrig's name or Wally Pipp's, but tried to equate that famed Yankees switch with this one.

"These are the things that happen sometimes," Castillo said. "People get opportunities. Those are two quality kids that have got an opportunity and done the best of it."

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