Biggest offseason developments: The Bears signed Bobby Massie to a three-year, $18 million contract with $6.5 million guaranteed. The team used its second-round draft pick, No. 56 overall, on Kansas State’s Cody Whitehair. Eighth-year veteran Matt Slauson was released after three seasons with the organization.
What to like: With coach John Fox committed to establishing a rugged running attack, the Bears should be positioned to excel behind the right side of their line. Kyle Long, who has made three consecutive Pro Bowl trips, has moved back inside where he should be one of the league’s best guards again. Massie also is known as a mauler in the running game and has been offseason workout buddies with Long for years, adding to their rapport.
Long was never fully comfortable during his 2015 stint at right tackle. So as he has regained the mental serenity of playing back inside, Long is operating again with confidence and seems freer to show off the ferocity that makes him one of the game’s best. Said Fox: “I’d take 11 of him, all across the board.” With Long now holding seniority in the offensive line room at Halas Hall, more will be expected from him as a leader as well. But think of the 27-year-old as a day-in, day-out tone-setter more than a motivational orator.
Said Long: “Don’t talk about it. Be about it. I’m here to play football. And I think that guys will respect that.”
Biggest question: Can Hroniss Grasu become a consistent difference-maker at center?
Grasu was pushed around way too easily and far too often as a rookie and needs to become more dependable if the offense is going to take a big step forward. The coaching staff continues to laud his intelligence and drive. And while much will be made of the weight and strength Grasu added over the offseason, the key to his success may hinge on his ability to develop a nastier edge. That’s no small challenge. But it’s a hurdle Grasu must clear to prove the Bears didn’t waste their third-round pick in 2015.
Fresh face: It’s difficult to know how fast Whitehair will progress. But make no mistake, the Bears used a second-round pick on the 24-year-old lineman with every intent on molding him into a starter as soon as possible. In the big picture, it’s likely only a matter of when not if Whitehair will crack the starting five. Whitehair was a four-year starter at Kansas State, a grinder with obvious savvy and versatility. His strong hands may be his greatest asset, allowing him to control opposing lineman with a sturdy vice grip. When given the opportunity to take more reps with the starters during minicamp, Whitehair held up just fine.
“For a young player, like Cody is, it has been really good for him,” Fox said. “He did a really good job with those opportunities.”
You should know: Long is pushing to become just the fifth Bear ever to make the Pro Bowl after each of his first four seasons. The others already in that club: Brian Urlacher, Dick Butkus, Mike Ditka and Rick Casares.