That was, obviously, a bad sign for former starting center Sam Mustipher. The 25-year-old started all 17 games at center last season and seven games the season prior. The Bears weren’t completely giving up on Mustipher, however. They tendered a one-year contract to Mustipher, who had been an exclusive-rights free agent.
When the team convened this spring for minicamp, Mustipher found himself seeing a lot of action at right guard. On Monday after practice, he said he hasn’t played guard in a game since high school.
“I’ve loved competition my entire life,” Mustipher said. “Every stage that I’ve been in, I’ve had to compete for a job. I’ve never been the strongest, fastest, most athletically gifted guy, so I just hang my hat on the things that – being willing to do the other things that other people aren’t willing to do.”
The Bears originally signed Mustipher as an undrafted rookie out of Notre Dame in 2019. He spent the entire 2019 season on the practice squad and began 2020 on the practice squad. Injuries ahead of him on the depth chart gave him a chance to start at center during the second half of 2020.
With a transition to guard, Mustipher could prove to be even more valuable to the Bears – even if he’s not necessarily a starter. He has 24 career starts under his belt and should be available to play center or either guard spot. That’s the definition of a valuable backup.
Already, that versatility is apparent. Patrick injured his hand last week and will be out for a while. Since Patrick went down, Mustipher has been back at center more. He and rookie Doug Kramer have split time at center with the first-string offense.
“It’s not that difficult,” Mustipher said of playing both positions. “That’s our job. That’s what we were called to do. I’m going to study.”
Over the offseason, Mustipher spent a lot of time studying guards who play at a similar height and weight as him (the Bears list Mustipher at 6-foot-2, 332 pounds). Mustipher has been watching a lot of former Saints guard Larry Warford and current Buccaneers guard Shaq Mason.
In the spring, he was taking reps at right guard with the starting offense, splitting time with Dakota Dozier. During veteran minicamp, Dozier injured his knee and went on injured reserve. Now, Mustipher’s main competition at right guard is coming from veteran Michael Schofield and rookie Ja’Tyre Carter.
“Wherever they need me is where I’ll be at,” Mustipher said.
Taking attendance: Head coach Matt Eberflus confirmed that cornerback Thomas Graham Jr. will be out for a while with a hamstring injury. Defensive tackle Angelo Blackson missed his second consecutive practice with an undisclosed injury. Blackson was present and using the exercise bike.
Eberflus said there is no update on Roquan Smith’s status. Smith continues to participate in meetings and remains on the physically unable to perform list. Smith is pushing the Bears to sign him to a contract extension.
“I’m not in the middle of that,” Eberflus said. “So I really can’t say there’s progress, not progress. That’s for Ryan [Poles] and him working together.”
The pads are coming on: The Bears will have back-to-back days of padded practice beginning Tuesday. Eberflus indicated that those first few days in pads are always telling.
“When you get the pads on, now, you can really see guys will either rise or they’ll fall a little bit based on the pads,” Eberflus said. “I’ve seen it every year.”
Pads will give the Bears a better opportunity to see what they have on the offensive and defensive lines. It’s hard to glean much from the trenches when there are no pads. The same goes for the running game.
For many players, this is the true start of training camp.
“That’s when you really find out who loves the game of football,” Mustipher said. “And it’s not even really Day 1, it’s like Day 5 of pads.”
Eberflus in a new role: Eberflus the head coach and Eberflus the coordinator appear to be quite different. Defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad, who played for Eberflus in Indianapolis, said that Eberflus the head coach seems much more relaxed.
Since he was hired, Eberflus said he planned to delegate, and that’s what he has been doing. Defensive coordinator Alan Williams will call the defense. Offensive coordinator Luke Getsy will call the offense.
Eberflus is the big-picture guy.
“He’s always watching,” Muhammad said. “He’s always evaluating. He may be a little more intense as a defensive coordinator, actually, but it’s cool to see.”
Muhammad said the easiest way to wind up on Eberflus’ bad side in Indianapolis was to not run to the football on defense.
Muhammad was certainly running to the ball Monday. He would’ve had several sacks if he were allowed to hit the quarterback. It was easily the best day of camp so far for the 27-year-old pass rusher. He, Robert Quinn and Trevis Gipson figure to be the top threats off the edge.
“He doesn’t take plays off,” Eberflus said. “That’s what Mo does. Mo just goes hard.”