How important was Kyle Long to the Bears' offense? The right guard went on IR four weeks ago, and the Bears are still dealing with the issues that his absence creates at other positions.
Not only did Long's injury mean that the Bears were going to have to lean on Rashaad Coward before they would have liked, but it also largely drove the decision to move James Daniels and Cody Whitehair back to the positions they played last season – Whitehair at center, and Daniels at left guard.
"You have Kyle over there, veteran, steadying guy next to James, between him and Bobby," Bears offensive line coach Harry Hiestand said. "Now you have a guy that was a defensive lineman playing that spot, and with Cody in there, it's a steadying factor."
Without Long, Whitehair's now the most senior member on the Bears' interior line. Drafted in 2016, he's got two years on both Daniels and Rashaad Coward, the latter being moved onto the offensive line when Nagy took over in 2018. Given how the offense has looked through 10 weeks, there wasn't a lot of harm in giving the switch a shot.
"I think you have a balance when you look at it," Nagy added. "Before, you have experience wise, you're dealing with Leno on the left, right? Cody and James and Rashaad. That was one of the things that we looked at with that switch. And then I think you kind of balance it out a little bit."
Daniels' versatility across multiple positions is a big part of the reason why the Bears took him 39th overall in 2018. It's also a big part of the reason why they're confident that moving back to guard halfway through the year won't throw him for a loop. He did, after all, start 10 games (nine on the left, once on the right) there as a rookie. He ended his rookie season with a Top-40 grade from to Pro Football Focus, and was one of only 35 guards to not allow a sack.
"I just like him period," Hiestand said. "I just like him as a football player and as a person. He gives us everything he has every day. He's got a lot of ability and over time as he gets stronger and becomes more confident playing in this league and grows and matures, he's gonna be fun to watch."
The Bears were as unified as they were non-committal when asked if the switch was permanent. They were proud that Daniels "handled [the news] great," and praised his team-first approach, a response that isn't automatic with 23-year-old 2nd round picks that get replaced. And for the conspiracy theorists out there, there was no input from the quarterback room. "We've got enough on our plate," QB coach Dave Ragone quipped.
It's not going to be an overnight fix, which was pretty clear after the game against Detroit featured Whitehair struggling out of the shotgun, two penalties from Daniels, and five sacks allowed. Still, the Bears will have to go 6-1 or 7-0 to have any realistic chance at a playoff berth, and moving Whitehair back gives them a better shot at doing that. It just may mean a few more hiccups, but that's nothing new this year.
"Going through a couple of snap issues here or there, there were a few of those yesterday," Nagy said. "We've been through that before and Cody's done a great job of pulling through that. We just know that making that switch, for a lot of different reasons is more beneficial."