Bears Offseason Outlook: Offensive Line

Editor's note: This is the fifth in a series of positional breakdowns as the Bears enter the offseason. You can find them all here.
(670 The Score) A month into the 2019 regular season, Bears guard Kyle Long realized he wasn't his three-time Pro Bowl self any longer. The toll of his seven-year career and multiple surgeries was evident as he let himself and the Bears' offensive line down.

"I just found that it was time for me to amicably figure out a way to end it with the Bears," Long said on 670 The Score last week. "I thought that they did right by me for so many years -- by drafting me, by re-signing me, by keeping me around. They saw what I saw. The writing was on the wall."

Now retired, Long was proud to end his career with the Bears, who drafted him in the first round in 2013. But after he was placed on season-ending injured reserve in early October, his absence left a major void on the offensive line. 

The Bears failed to find an answer at right guard without a healthy Long. His absence in part forced them to undo the position switch of James Daniels and Cody Whitehair -- moving Whitehair back to center and Daniels to left guard -- and the entire line felt a trickle-down effect.

As the Bears have turned their attention to 2020, they know they need a much better performance from their offensive line moving forward.

Who's back: Charles Leno Jr., 28; James Daniels, 22; Cody Whitehair, 27; Bobby Massie, 30; Alex Bars, 24; Sam Mustipher, 23; Dino Boyd, 23
Free agents: Ted Larsen, 32; Rashaad Coward, 25; Cornelius Lucas, 28
How they got here

The Bears returned all five starters on their offensive line in 2019 and had every reason to expect to have stability from the group. The line's regression was unforeseen.

Leno took a step back after playing in the Pro Bowl in 2018. Daniels couldn't handle the center job, which forced Whitehair back into that position. Coward is a nice story, but he didn't appear to be a starting-caliber player. Even Massie was inconsistent in the first season of a four-year extension.

The Bears averaged 3.9 yards per rush and 4.7 yards per play last season, and it was clear coach Matt Nagy felt the blame started with the offensive line.

Nagy fired offensive line coach Harry Hiestand shortly after his seasoning-end press conference in a surprising move that displayed his frustration with that position group. Hiestand arrived in January 2018 as Nagy's first hire and carried a strong reputation from his past. 

Veteran assistant Juan Castillo has replaced Hiestand as the new Bears offensive line coach. While the Bears didn't name Castillo the running game coordinator, it's likely he will take a role overseeing that struggling part of the offense.

But Hiestand was far from the problem in why the Bears struggled up front.

Quote to note

"I won't wear another jersey, and I won't have a helmet on again."

-- Long on his retirement

What's ahead

After returning five starters last season, the Bears will enter 2020 with four linemen set -- barring a surprising development. Leno, Daniels, Whitehair and Massie will be back at their respective positions.

One of the Bears' priorities this offseason will be creating continuity on their line, and that means finding a better fit at right guard.

The Bears could search for a proven veteran in free agency such as Brandon Scherff or Graham Glasgow. The NFL Draft also presents options for the Bears, who own a pair of second-round picks.

Beyond that void on the line, the Bears need to come away from their 2019 season review with solutions for what went wrong with their offensive line.

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.