LAKE FOREST – The truth about the Bears’ offensive line last year is that it was OK, but certainly not special.
Yes, at the end of the 2015 season Kyle Long was the best guard in football, but that was before a rash of ankle, leg, shoulder and neck injuries limited him to eight, nine and eight games each of the past three seasons.
James Daniels was a second-round draft choice last year, and the Bears played him at guard, where he started 10 games.
He was fine, but learning on the job.
At right and left tackle, Bobby Massie and Charles Leno may never be All-Pros, but both are better than average and still improving, even though they are in their eighth and six seasons, respectively.
The bottom line is Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen easily led the NFL in getting clobbered 2 and 3 yards behind the line of scrimmage, and a ton of that was on the O-line.
The good news is that the same group can be much better this year.
The other day in Bourbonnais, offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich offered this observation about Long and the rest of the group.
“Yeah, I mean, [Long is] a force,” he said. “And all those guys, the veteran guys, the two tackles and Kyle that have been playing a lot of football, they’re doing a great job right now with the ‘new position guys.’
“But having Kyle out there in full confidence is a big deal.”
Coming off his first offseason in three years with no surgeries to rehab, Long appears ready to dominate again.
The “new position guys” – Whitehair, who is now at his natural guard position for the first time since his rookie minicamp, and Daniels, who a number of respected scouts last season projected as the best center prospect in the draft, along with backups Ted Larsen and Alex Bars – have the interior of the O-line looking like one of the best in the league.
The one veteran the Bears paid this offseason was Massie, as much because of what he means in the locker room and the huddle as he does on the field.
Nagy talked the other day about the importance of having Massie back.
“There’s scenarios where guys sacrifice maybe a little bit of money to be here with guys they want to play with, coaches they want to play for, an organization they want to be part of,” Nagy said. “That’s just who [Massie] is, and I think it speaks volumes about him.”
There is really only one big area of concern about this group at this point, and that’s what happens if Massie or Leno gets hurt.
The Bears would love to lean on special project Rashaad Coward, who they’ve spent the past year trying to convert from defensive tackle to offensive tackle.
“Once he went all-in, he was all-in,” Nagy said of Coward. “He’s very valuable for us as a guy that can play different positions on the O-line.”
I asked Coward on Tuesday what the toughest challenge of the switch has been.
“Being more consistent,” he said. “This has been probably bugging me, but just being more consistent in my technique will benefit me more.”
The Bears like what they’ve seen of Coward behind Massie on the right side, but the left side still is a different challenge for him.
The Bears’ other options behind Leno at the moment, veterans Cornelius Lucas and T.J. Clemmings, have failed to impress.
Overall, this Bears offensive line is close to being very, very good, but at least for now, it may be critical to keep Leno healthy.
• Hub Arkush is executive editor of Pro Football Weekly. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter @Hub_Arkush.