Bears Showing Interest in Sam Mustipher Replacement: Report

Scruggs Bears Mustipher

Getty Former Bears starting center Sam Mustipher remains an unrestricted free agent.

The Chicago Bears are still in need of a new starting center after declining to tender a qualifying offer to Sam Mustipher as a restricted free agent, but it appears they may have found a candidate to replace him for the 2023 season.

According to Tony Pauline of Pro Football Network, the Bears have been showing interest in Penn State center Juice Scruggs and recently took the 6-foot-3, 301-pound prospect out to dinner as part of their pre-draft process. Chicago’s interest in Scruggs is strong enough that Pauline also believes it is “unlikely” he gets past the Bears’ top pick in the fourth round at No. 103 overall.

“Scruggs had dinner with the Bears last night and met at length with the Dolphins at the pro day,” Pauline wrote on March 24. “Right now, it seems unlikely Scruggs gets past the Bears’ pick, which opens the fourth round.”

Scruggs is Pro Football Focus’ fifth-best center in the class, boasting impressive length (33 1/4 inches) and a successful season on record as a starting center in the Big Ten. Pauline and others have also noted how good Scruggs looked at Penn State’s pro day in front of numerous NFL decision-makers, including Bears general manager Ryan Poles. If the Bears decide other needs come first and invest their four top-64 picks into other positions, Scruggs could become an ideal target for them in the fourth round.

Juice Scruggs Flipped From Guard to Center in 2022

Juice Scruggs Bears Dinner

GettyPenn State center Juice Scruggs is drawing interest from the Chicago Bears.

Scruggs has been a draft riser since his strong showing at the NFL Scouting Combine at the beginning of March. He presented good size for his position, even though pro teams could ask him to gain a little bit more weight. He also recorded a 32-inch vertical that rated fifth-best among all 2023 offensive line prospects and looked smooth in his drills.

One of the underrated appeals to Scruggs, though, is his positional versatility. While he is often billed as a center for the upcoming draft, Scruggs played 685 snaps at right guard for the Nittany Lions in 2021 before swapping to the center position. Ultimately, he spent more time at center than guard at Penn State, but his ability to work at multiple positions along the interior would absolutely be an asset for the Bears.

Here’s what Lance Zierlein of wrote about Scruggs in his draft profile:

A two-year starter with center/guard versatility. Scruggs is dependable and consistent in carrying out his assignments to the best of his ability. He plays like a block of granite that is difficult to push back or knock off-balance, but he’s more of a neutralizer than road grader. He plays with solid technique and possesses the play strength to hold his own in the middle. The lack of foot quickness shows up with athletic defenders leaking around his edges and that issue coudl be exacerbated if teams play him at guard. Scruggs has the potential to go from backup to eventual starter if the situation is right.

Could Sam Mustipher Still Be Bears’ Fallback Option?

The Bears might not have tendered Mustipher as a restricted free agent at the start of the new league year, but that doesn’t mean they have completely given up on bringing him back for the 2023 season. The 26-year-old remains unsigned after the first two weeks of free agency and, if things don’t go according to plans in the draft, could still be available if they want to add a famliar piece to the picture for the sake of depth.

Is Mustipher worth another look, though?

Mustipher has come a long way since getting called up from the Bears’ practice squad in 2020. The former undrafted free agent has started 40 of his 43 career games and is coming off a 2022 season in which he allowed just two sacks on 1,020 snaps at center. The problem is Mustipher has never been better than average as a run-blocker during his career and has had some low-lows as a pass protector, sometimes allowing his own failed assignments to make the job harder on his fellow offensive linemen. With him set to turn 27 before the start of next season, the Bears could probably do better.

The Bears also already have a pair of veteran options in place at center between Lucas Patrick and Cody Whitehair. The latter has been the Bears’ starting left guard for the past few seasons, but he has played more career snaps at center (3,840) over his tenure in Chicago and could move back to his former position after the team signed Nate Davis to a three-year contract in free agency. Meanwhile, Patrick was originally signed to be the Bears’ starting center in 2022, but injuries kept him from getting a real shot.

Even without a rookie, the window might be closed for Mustipher.

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