The offensive line might not be the flashiest area on an NFL roster, but it’s vital for any franchise. For the Chicago Bears, the line is key to offense’s success in 2018.
While it’s certainly flexible, the magic number for offensive lineman on the 53-man roster appears to be eight. We know Kyle Long, Cody Whitehair, Charles Leno Jr., Bobby Massie and rookie James Daniels are guaranteed roster spots. Even with Massie playing at a mediocre level with a year left on his deal, he still hasn’t done enough to be unseated as the starting right tackle.
One potential depth piece was already let go earlier in the week. After attempting to trade him, veteran guard Earl Watford was released Sunday. Watford received reps at right guard throughout camp and saw extensive playing time throughout the preseason with the second unit.
Eric Kush, Hroniss Grasu, Bradley Sowell, Rashaad Coward and Jordan Morgan are the prime names competing for three spots. Kush is currently ahead of Daniels on the depth chart, Daniels has shown flashes throughout the preseason at center and more recently at left guard. Does that leave Kush’s job security in question?
With the names above duking it out, here’s we predict will be in and out.
The magic number: 8
1. Eric Kush – Guard
Head coach Matt Nagy said on Monday and Tuesday that he and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand are encouraged with Daniels’ development but Kush still holds the edge on at the starting left guard spot for now. While Daniels could eventually win the job over Kush, the veteran is likely going to stay as a super sub. Kush is very versatile, capable of playing both guard spots and even center in a pinch. Based on Long’s injury history alone, it’s worth keeping him aboard for depth.
2. Rashaad Coward – Tackle
Coward’s story is fascinating. He originally came into the league last year as an undrafted nose tackle out of Old Dominion, spending time on the Bears’ practice squad and active roster. During the offseason, the coaching staff decided to switch him to offensive lineman. Hmm. Could he be the new James “Big Cat” Williams?
Surprisingly, he’s looked like a seasoned veteran at right tackle from moment training camp started. His stiffest competition might come from last year’s fifth-round pick Jordan Morgan. Even though Morgan is a guard, his draft stock might play a factor in the eventual numbers’ game. However, based on Coward’s play and potential to challenge Massie at starting right tackle later in the season, the Bears might have better luck stashing Morgan on the practice squad.
3. Bradley Sowell – Tackle
Sowell beat out Tom Compton last year to be Leno’s backup, and he actually started in two games in 2017. The 29-year-old signed a two-year contract extension in the offseason and was brought back to be the backup swing tackle. However, he’s been mediocre in the preseason, looking overmatched at times against starting and second-string defenders.
He also went down with an ankle injury in Saturday’s preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs, making his immediate availability questionable. Fortunately for Sowell, there aren’t any options that can back up Leno at left tackle. The aforementioned Coward is still raw and best suited on the right side of the line. Unless the Bears find another veteran on the street, it looks like Sowell is making the 53-man roster by default.
1. Jordan Morgan – Guard
As mentioned earlier, Morgan might lose a spot to Coward. Coward has put enough on tape that would make it hard to stash him away on the practice squad. Fortunately, Morgan still has practice-squad eligibility and probably hasn’t really flashed enough to make other teams snatch him up from the practice squad. He was selected as a raw project last year but missed the entire season with a shoulder injury. Given his draft stock, a strong performance Thursday against the Buffalo Bills could change his status. But for now, the prediction is that he’s off the 53-man roster.
2. Hroniss Grasu – Center/Guard
When Bears GM Ryan Pace selected Grasu in his first draft class, he appeared to be the answer at center going forward. Instead, he’s been a giant question mark. The former third-round pick in 2015 started eight games in his rookie season, finishing the year with so-so results. He missed the entire 2016 season with a torn ACL but returned last year, starting in just four games.
Grasu has always looked the part from a technical standpoint, but he lacks strength at the point of attack. Getting pushed backwards never bodes well, and it certainly won’t work in a new offense where precision and timing are super important. To give you a slight glimpse into his subpar pass protection, he famously registered a 0.0 pass blocking grade from Pro Football Focus during last year’s week 10 matchup against the Green Bay Packers. That was the lowest grade ever recorded in two years by PFF.
With an average preseason to date, his chances of making the roster are on life support. According to Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer, the Bears are trying to trade Grasu. Pace would likely jump on any offer even if it netted only a conditional seventh-round pick. However, if there aren’t takers, Grasu will likely be released before week one kicks off.