Chicago Bears

Hub Arkush: Bears' O-line needs more than new coach

Bears center Cody Whitehair calls signals to fellow linemen against the Detroit Lions on Nov. 10 at Soldier Field. Whitehair later in the season swapped positions with guard James Daniels.
Bears center Cody Whitehair calls signals to fellow linemen against the Detroit Lions on Nov. 10 at Soldier Field. Whitehair later in the season swapped positions with guard James Daniels.

The recent rapid-fire signings of Deon Bush, Artie Burns, Jordan Lucas and Markevious Mingo suggest the Bears are all but done with any big swings in free agency.

Bush will be the presumptive starter next to Eddie Jackson at safety, but even though Mingo and Burns are former first-round draft picks, what all four of these players have in common is their main contributions to NFL teams to date have been on special teams.

General manager Ryan Pace’s focus the past 48 hours clearly has been on the bottom half of his roster.

But when you consider that as the starter’s bell rang a week ago Monday, the Bears’ most glaring needs were at tight end, quarterback, safety and pass rush, whether you like his approach or not, you can’t argue that Pace hasn’t addressed every one of them.

The Bears should be able to address additional concerns via other avenues, including with two second-round draft picks and five more in the fifth, sixth and seventh rounds of the draft. There also are trades available; witness Pace’s quarterback strategy.

However, I chose the phrase “glaring needs” two paragraphs earlier strategically.

Considering the Bears will return all five starting offensive linemen from last season, it’s hard to call that unit a glaring need.

That is unless, as do I, you believe left tackle Charles Leno isn’t NFL starter caliber, Rashaad Coward and Alex Bars still are complete unknowns, and left guard James Daniels and center Cody Whitehair both finished the season out of position (and coach Matt Nagy is dropping hints he may leave them there).

Throw in the fact that swing tackle Cornelius Lucas, the most valuable backup on either side of the ball, and the versatile Ted Larsen inside are both gone, and you’ve got a big problem.

Let’s be fair. I’ve pointed out several times the past few months that this was a bad year to seek free-agent help on the O-line.

Contracts given to guys such as Halapoolavaati Vaitai, Erek Flowers, George Fant and Alex Lewis have been somewhat absurd, and the Bears didn’t have the cap freedom to mix it up with Jack Conklin, Anthony Costanzo or Bryan Bulaga.

As much as I think Jason Peters would be a great idea, he is 38, and the Bears still could go to market for Trent Williams, but he’d cost at least one of their second-round picks plus, and I’m not sure how that would work out cap-wise.

So Pace is in a tough spot.

This is supposed to be a great draft up front, so maybe now we know those two second-round picks both will be big uglies.

But what really concerns me is the possibility that having not added even a single body for depth and/or competition, Pace and Nagy might think they’re OK up front just by replacing offensive line coach Harry Hiestand with Juan Castillo.

I had no history with Hiestand before his coming to the Bears other than hearing from multiple sources that he is one of the best in the business at his craft.

That he got Leno and Cody Whitehair to the Pro Bowl in his first season here, albeit as alternates, speaks volumes about him.

Whitehair maybe, but Leno?

According to several sources Hiestand and Nagy just weren’t a perfect fit together.

While that is reason enough to make a change, it’s certainly no excuse to throw Hiestand under the bus, which is kind of how this is starting to feel.

Castillo is an accomplished, veteran offensive line coach with plenty of history with Nagy.

But he didn’t play to rave reviews in Baltimore or Buffalo after leaving Philadelphia, was out of the league last year, and I haven’t been able to find anywhere near the number of admirers who line up for Hiestand eager to vouch for Castillo.

What I am hearing is he may be a bit too crusty for some folks’ liking.

I’m not saying Castillo is a bad coach; let’s give the guy a chance.

I am saying I believe Hiestand is a really good coach, and it feels as if the Bears may be looking in the wrong place for answers while not taking their real issues on the offensive line seriously enough.

• Hub Arkush is Shaw Media’s director of football content. Write to him at harkush@profootballweekly.com, and follow him on Twitter @Hub_Arkush.

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