(CBS) After earning praise with a strong rookie season, 2017 has been a different year for Bears offensive lineman Cody Whitehair.
He struggled early on at his primary position of center – showing the kinds of struggles he rarely did last season – and has also been forced over to right guard in emergency situations. The most recent occurrence came during the Bears’ loss to the Packers at Soldier Field on Sunday, with Whitehair starting at right guard while Kyle Long was out injured.
“The biggest difference would probably be due to some injuries and some other things that have happened, I’ve had to switch different positions,” Whitehair said during an interview on the Bernstein and Show on Wednesday. “Obviously, you only suit up seven (offensive lineman) on game days, so you have to be flexible. That’s kind of what I’ve been fighting through right now.
“I probably feel the most comfortable at center, due to playing there all 16 games last year and quite a few this year.”
It remains unknown when Long will return at right guard. He was limited in practice Wednesday after being limited all last week. Maintenance has been the priority for the Bears, though it’s uncertain if and when he will be able to play at a high level. The Bears are also missing Long’s replacement at guard, Tom Compton, and reserve Eric Kush is on injured reserve.
If the Bears’ injury status stands for Sunday, it will likely be Whitehair again at right guard.
“Kyle’s a very supportive guy with me playing right guard, the position that he’s mastered,” Whitehair said. “He was great throughout the week. Due to the injury, Kyle was unable to be out there. He was dressed for emergency reasons. Hopefully we can get Kyle healthy and back out there soon.”
In a year with some hurdles, Whitehair is trying to take the next step in his game. A second-round pick in 2016, he emerged as the Bears’ starting center and put together a strong season by showing he could handle the next level. He moved on to the next goals.
Whitehair spends plenty of time after practice working on his technique and makes watching extra film a priority.
“The thing for me is trying to be a better leader and take the next step in my career,” Whitehair said. “As young as we are, the younger guys on this team have to mature a little bit faster than if we were on a veteran-led team. That’s kind of the thing I’ve been working on, is trying to master my craft being a leader.”
The Bears (3-6) host the Lions (5-4) on Sunday at Soldier Field after dropping two games in a row. The 23-16 loss to the Packers in particular hurt because the chance was there for a key win.
“Yeah, we’re pretty beat up about it, too, along with you guys on the outside world,” Whitehair said. “We’re going tp do everything in our willpower here at Halas Hall to get back on the right track. Our coaches and our players are 100 percent in on this game plan. We’re really ready to get this thing turned around at Soldier Field this weekend.”