Moving Cody Whitehair to Center might be a Mistake

May 25, 2016; Lake Forest, IL, USA; Chicago Bears guard Cody Whitehair (65) during the OTA practice at Halas Hall. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports
May 25, 2016; Lake Forest, IL, USA; Chicago Bears guard Cody Whitehair (65) during the OTA practice at Halas Hall. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports /

There could be some challenges moving rookie Cody Whitehair to center.

When the Chicago Bears selected Cody Whitehair in the 2nd round of the 2016 NFL Draft, they were excited to add athleticism and versatility to an offensive line that was certainly in need of those traits, after a season of more downs than ups in the trenches.

Whitehair, who was known for his work ethic and consistency, and again, his versatility (he impressed as a chameleon on the offensive line, playing right guard, left guard, and eventually left tackle in his last two years at Kansas State), is expected to be a reliable force for Jay Cutler and company right off the bat — and his strong hands, footwork, and technique suggest exactly that.

Whitehair is smart, plays with formidable balance, and knows how to utilize his abilities. A Kyle Long type of player. An OL with the mindset to leave his comfort zone and switch positions whenever his team needs him to. A gamer.

With that being said, the Bears haven’t been hesitant when it comes to showing the high expectations they have for the former Kansas State Wildcat and have decided to push his versatility even more.

The day after the Bears had given Kyle Long a 4-year extension worth $40 million, they signed former Packers guard Josh Sitton to a 3-year, $21.75 million deal — but not to play center, a position his former coach Mike McCarthy said he had played (well) before, but to play left guard, moving rookie Cody Whitehair to the only position he does not have experience playing at (apart from limited exposure in training camp and a few shaky snaps in preseason) — center.

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Yet John Fox does not only believe Whitehair’s future is at center, but he believes the future is now, meaning to move Cody Whitehair from guard to center is the Bears’ best bet at this particular moment in time.

“Right now, looking at it, I think [center] is his best position,” John Fox told Chicago Sun-Times’ Adam Jahns. “Unfortunately, prior to the acquisition of [Josh Sitton], we weren’t real fluid to put him there a whole lot, but he has had reps.”

As coach Fox and company go on raving about Whitehair’s qualities (which are indeed impressive, as I pointed out in the beginning), I still can’t help but notice that one striking fact that dares to discourage even the most talented athletes — he’s a rookie. A highly adaptable and talented rookie, but a rookie after all.

If Whitehair starts the 2016 season at center, don’t think those penalties and high snaps we have seen from him in the preseason will be things of the past, because they won’t.

He will look like a rookie more often than not, and that’s just how it is. He will have bad snaps and draw penalties in pressure situations. He’ll also flash his talent, there’s no doubt about that, but his lack of experience will prevail. It’s almost inevitable. You know why? Because this is the NFL and not college. Or let me rephrase that — the unmerciful NFL and all of its unmerciful veterans and thinkers that will not hesitate to take advantage of a rookies’ inexperience at a certain position. The same NFL that crushed the dreams of many talented rookies that had not been eased into their roles properly.

My apologies if I caught you off-guard with some brutal truths about the Nation Football League, but hashtag sorry not sorry.

So, why not start Josh Sitton at center. At 30 years old, Sitton is a proven veteran and one of the best offensive linemen in professional football.

There’s no apparent reason why the Bears should throw Cody Whitehair to the wolves and not take advantage of Sitton’s experience.

Is center Sitton’s preferred position? Probably not. And it’s presumably not the position he feels most comfortable playing at either, but he would certainly be more comfortable than a rookie with zero experience.

And remember, last season against the Raiders Matt Slauson was forced to take over for an injured Will Montgomery, who went down with a broken fibula in the first quarter. Hroniss Grasu wasn’t able to stay healthy either, so Slauson continued to play center, and most importantly, continued to look like a starting center.

That’s what veterans do. It’s their job to deal with difficult situation and roles, and step in when push comes to shove, simply because they are veterans. Let the rookie be comfortable, because he’s a rookie. Let him develop at left guard, and let the veteran be the reliable veteran that he is and there’s a good chance we’ll at least see Slauson 2.0.

As the Bears latest depth chart suggests, there’s also the possibility of starting veteran Ted Larsen at center, with Whitehair being the backup, but that would probably be the worst option since Whitehair would miss out on valuable snaps and it would take even longer to turn him into a starting center.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Cody Whitehair could eventually develop into a really good center, but he needs more reps at guard and to adapt to playing in the NFL first.
Sometimes you just have know when too early is too early. And now is too early.