The Chicago Bears are still working through their options for their first offensive line of the 2023 season, but Cody Whitehair does not believe his recent hand injury will give him any trouble snapping the ball if the Bears decide to stay the course and roll with him as their center against the Green Bay Packers in Week 1.
Whitehair sported a splint on his left pinky during his September 4 press conference with reporters, but he explained he was wearing it for the “long-term” health of his pinky and that it would not preclude him from snapping responsibilities in Week 1.
“Yeah, this is just for long term, trying to prevent long-term damage, but I feel good,” Whitehair said Monday. “I’m ready to go and excited for the week.”
Whitehair injured his right snapping hand on August 17 in training camp and had been wearing a protective wrap on the hand in subsequent practices, creating concern that he might not be able to handle the duties of a center until his hand was in better condition.
The Bears also moved him from center back to left guard — where he started 29 games over the past two seasons — in practice; although, they did not make it clear whether the shift was a result of his own injury or the one sidelining Teven Jenkins, who was set to be their Week 1 starter at left guard before landing on short-term injured reserve.
If Whitehair’s right hand is in a good place and his pinky split is the only lingering health concern for him, though, the Bears should have four of five intended starters for their offensive line ready to play against the Packers in the season opener — which will be of great benefit to quarterback Justin Fields and the offense that depends on them.
Moving Interior Spots ‘Like Riding a Bike’ for Whitehair
Whitehair has flipped back and forth between left guard and center throughout the course of his seven seasons with the Bears. He played 1,000-plus snaps at center in two of his first three years, then split his time almost even between the two positions in 2019 and 2020 for Chicago before settling in solely at left guard starting in 2021.
Back in March, though, Bears general manager Ryan Poles revealed Whitehair would be moving back to center once again for the 2023 season while Jenkins — who excelled at right guard in 2022 — would be sliding over to assume the left guard role. It was a move Whitehair welcomed, especially since the Bears had told him about the move early on in the offseason and gave him time to practice snapping again before OTAs began.
Fast-forward to September, the Bears remain unsure where they will play him early in the 2023 season. He appears to be in good shape, health-wise, to play center and has banked chemistry snapping to Fields throughout the offseason, but they might find him to be the best substitute for Jenkins in the left guard role than their other options.
Either way, Whitehair feels good about the state of the Bears’ offensive line and feels like the entire unit is “ready to roll” against their NFC North rivals in Week 1.
“Obviously, just playing next to Braxton versus the interior three guys,” Whitehair said about the difficulty of moving between left guard and center. “I was fortunate to be able to work with Braxton all of last year, too, so it’s kind of just like picking up riding a bike again, but working those fits a little bit more before and after practice, getting better continuity there is the biggest thing. But I like where we’re at, feel good where we’re at and we’re ready to roll.”
Could Dan Feeney Get Starting Nod Against Packers?
Regardless of whether Whitehair plays left guard or center in Sunday’s opener, the Bears will need a new starter for one of their offensive line spots and could look to newly acquired interior veteran Dan Feeney to step up into a temporary starting role.
The Bears shipped a 2024 sixth-round pick to the Miami Dolphins for Feeney just before the 53-man roster cutdown deadline on August 29 and now have an intriguing new veteran option for the interior of their line. Feeney struggled with injuries in each of the past two seasons, but he played 1,174 snaps as the Los Angeles Chargers’ starting center during his last healthy season in 2020 and has 2,596 career snaps at left guard.
“The position flex is obviously something we coveted there, to be an inside piece there for us in games, and the experience,” Eberflus said on August 31 after the cut deadline. “Like we’ve said, there’s a known and unknown factor to playing a rookie, right? And there’s also a known factor to playing a veteran. You’ve got tape, you’ve seen him play, you know what he can do up to this level, so that’s what it is.”
The Bears might be inclined to go with someone who has spent more time in their offensive system for Week 1, such as Lucas Patrick or Ja’Tyre Carter, but the experience he brings could end up being the safest option for them when they go to set things.