Leading up to Bears training camp in late July, Shaw Local is counting down the top 25 most important Bears for the 2021 season.
What makes one player more important than another? That’s subjective, of course. But for our purposes it comes down to this: Are the Bears worse off if this player can’t play? Does this player have untapped potential or past greatness to live up to? Is his story going to be one fans follow closely this season?
Justin Fields might not be the best player for the Bears in 2021 (or maybe he will be?), but he certainly is among the most important.
No. 23: Sam Mustipher
NFL Experience: 2nd season
Looking back: Sam Mustipher spent the entire 2019 season on the Bears practice squad. Not until Week 6 of 2020, after Bears guard James Daniels went down with a pectoral injury, did Mustipher receive the call up to the 53-man roster. It wasn’t for another two weeks that he earned his first start at center in a Week 8 game against the New Orleans Saints.
He missed two games with a knee injury, but returned for a Week 12 game in Green Bay. Further injuries forced the Bears to rearrange the offensive line heading into that game, sliding Germain Ifedi to right tackle. With Mustipher at center and Ifedi at right tackle, the Bears offensive line found its mojo for the final six games. In all, Mustipher played in nine games and started seven. Running back David Montgomery thrived behind them and the Bears, despite a six-game losing streak, made a push for the playoffs.
Looking forward: Based on OTAs and veteran minicamp, Mustipher seems likely to retain his starting job at center in 2021. The Bears need to determine if Mustipher makes sense long-term at center, which is a position that Daniels and Cody Whitehair also have experience at. Is Mustipher a starting center in the NFL, or a really good backup? That’s what offensive line coach Juan Castillo and head coach Matt Nagy have to figure out.
The tape is undeniable, however. The Bears played their best when Mustipher was at center last season. With a rookie left tackle in Teven Jenkins, consistency from the other four offensive linemen is a must to help Jenkins acclimate himself to the NFL game. If Mustipher can continue to perform well at center, it solves a lot of problems for the Bears on the offensive line.