How Bears' Sam Mustipher, Al-Quadin Muhammad use past to fuel present

·4 min read

How Muhammad, Mustipher use past to fuel their present originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

The preseason is often dismissed as meaningless football, with no clear correlation to how a team will or won’t perform in the regular season. To a degree, that’s right. But for the Bears, a young team, with a first-year head coach, there will be value in playing a full half. It’ll be their best opportunity to work on the operation of the offense, with a good look at their presumptive starting offensive line. On defense, the unit will have the most time on task with both Roquan Smith and Nick Morrow in the middle, leading the way. For many, many other players however, it will be the last big chance to win a spot on the 53-man roster.

Defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad is sure to not only have a job, but to have a significant role in the defensive line rotation. He was hand-picked by Matt Eberflus and Ryan Poles to be a player who would help build the new Bears culture. Muhammad is all too familiar with the process of grinding all summer for a job, only to be cut when training camp ends. He was drafted by the Saints in 2017, and played in four games his rookie season. After his sophomore training camp however, Muhammad lost his place on the team and the Saints cut him. He landed on the Colts, but after four games was waived and put on the practice squad. One week later, Muhammad worked his way back to the active roster.

“I definitely think about it,” said Muhammad. “I always think about it to, I wouldn't say motivate myself, but just keep that burning in the back of my mind that it's never over, and every day it's like an interview.

“It just reminds me to be the same guy every day.”

Sam Mustipher is another man who had to grind for an NFL job. He signed with the Bears as an undrafted free agent in 2019. Mustipher was cut at the end of his rookie training camp and landed on the practice squad. The next season, it was the same story. When James Daniels went on the IR with a pec injury in the middle of October, Mustipher finally got his chance. In Week 6 of the 2020 season, Mustipher made his NFL debut and played five special teams snaps. By Week 8 he was the team’s starting center. Mustipher held that job down for a year and a half, until the new regime came to town. This year, Mustipher found himself in a battle for the right guard spot. Lately, Mustipher has been filling in for the injured Lucas Patrick at center, but when Patrick returns, he may be out of a job again, since Teven Jenkins has taken over at right guard.

“With how I got to the NFL, I feel like I have something to prove every day,” Mustipher said. “More specifically to having a new coaching staff, yeah, for sure, I want to go out there and put good stuff on film every day, be the same guy when I come to this building every day, and just improve in fundamentals, technique, execution. The things that they want to see, the things that they emphasize, the H.I.T.S. principle. I got to go out there and I got to put that on film. That’s being beaten home every day.”

Mustipher will likely have a spot on the 53-man roster, regardless of Patrick’s outlook because of his versatility to play center and guard. But for every Mustipher and Muhammad there are five other players who have worked just as hard who won’t be as fortunate next Tuesday when the team makes its final cuts.

“I always feel for those guys,” said Eberflus. “I always say, hey, put your best foot forward and apply what you learned. If this is the last football for you, apply what you learned in the game of football and when you were here, maybe we imparted some wisdom to you. Use that in life. Use that going forward in your relationships. Use that going forward in your business and the rest of the way you go. That's my message to them. It's always difficult because you build a relationship with those guys and it's always difficult to say goodbye.”

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