Shaw Local is counting down the top 25 most important Bears for the 2022 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?
For example, Justin Fields might not be the best player on the Bears in 2022 (or maybe he will be), but he certainly is among the most important.
No. 24 Sam Mustipher
NFL experience: Third season
Last year’s ranking: No. 23
Looking back: Sam Mustipher was one of three offensive players who played every snap for the 2021 Bears. He snapped every play at center, while guards Cody Whitehair and James Daniels were beside him for every play. He came to Chicago as an undrafted rookie in 2019 and spent his entire first year on the practice squad. A year later, he was thrust into a starting role midway through the 2020 season thanks to injuries ahead of him on the depth chart. He never gave up the job at center.
Mustipher is one of those players who worked hard, did what was asked of him and eventually turned it into a starting job. He rarely wows anyone with his blocking abilities, but he generally gets the job done. Per ESPN analytics, Mustipher was pretty much a league average center.
Looking forward: One of the Bears’ first moves under new general manager Ryan Poles and new head coach Matt Eberflus was to sign free-agent center Lucas Patrick away from the Green Bay Packers. That is an indication that the new regime wasn’t cool with keeping the status quo at center. For Mustipher himself, it’s a tough way to lose a starting job.
All indications from this spring are that the Bears are giving Mustipher a hard look at guard. The 25-year-old played the majority of his snaps, at least during the sessions that were open to the media, at both right and left guard. He was competing with free agent Dakota Dozier at right guard before Dozier suffered an apparent leg injury and went on injured reserve. That’s a huge shift for a lineman who has played exclusively at center since at least his redshirt sophomore season at Notre Dame in 2016. This is a huge year for Mustipher personally as he goes about proving himself to a new coaching staff.
Unless the Bears bring in more help on the offensive line, it’s entirely possible Mustipher could wind up the starter at right guard. Rookie guard Zachary Thomas could be in the mix too, or one of the sophomore tackles. All that uncertainty makes right guard one of the top positions to watch during training camp.