By Chris Emma--
Editor's note: This is the fifth entry in a series of positional previews leading up to the start of Bears training camp. Find the rest of them here.
(CBS) News of Matt Slauson's release sent shockwaves around Halas Hall back in early May.
For Bears teammates, losing Slauson from the locker room was a hard pill to swallow. He wasn't just a key leader but a good friend to many on the team.
The release of Slauson marked the beginning of a new identity for the Bears' offensive line. Rookie Cody Whitehair is now looking at an open door to become a starter, and Hroniss Grasu is suddenly facing more pressure to perform at center.
Now, the Bears have some interesting questions facing them as they head to training camp next week.
Kyle Long is set at right guard, and Bobby Massie will start at right tackle. How does the rest of the line look?
When Jermon Bushrod went down last season, Charles Leno proved his place.
Leno fit well at left tackle, a drastic change from his poor performance at right tackle. Entering training camp, it's Leno's job to lose at left tackle, with little competition to press him at the position.
The Bears showed belief in Leno at left tackle, and he hopes to repay it.
"I know if I'm confident in my technical abilities — which I am, and I'm still growing — I know I can play against anybody," Leno said.
The recently signed Nate Chandler poses the greatest threat to overtake Leno for the starting job. The Bears haven't made it clear whether there will be a direct battle between the two. Of course, coach John Fox will constantly talk about competition at every position, so the eye test in Bourbonnais will eventually prove this.
Massie was brought in to start at right tackle, working alongside his training partner, Long.
Barring an injury or surprise, it's likely that we see Leno starting at left tackle and Massie on the right side.
Here's where it gets interesting. We know that Long is back to his more comfortable position of right guard, but who starts at left guard?
Ideally, the Bears would like to see Whitehair -- their second-round pick from April -- win over the starting spot. After all, the belief in Whitehair was part of the reason Bears general manager Ryan Pace made the bold move to let Slauson loose.
The Bears also brought in some insurance, with Manny Ramirez and Ted Larsen in the fold. Then when Ramirez suddenly retired, the Bears went out and signed Amini Silatolu this week.
Both Larsen and Silatolu will fight with Whitehair for the starting job. Ideally, Pace and the Bears would like to see Whitehair be the best man for the job.
Hovering over all this is the question of whether the Bears want Whitehair at left guard or center.
Grasu wasn't ready to start at center last season. He refused to admit it, but everybody watching could see it.
Grasu was a rookie thrust into a starting job when Will Montgomery suffered a knee injury early in the season. He had to add size and adjust to the speed of the game.
Now, Grasu is more than 300 pounds and has learned the playbook well enough to read and react off the snap.
"If you don't know what you're doing," Grasu said, "if you're thinking too much, it doesn't matter how strong or fast you are, that split second that you're thinking, you're going to get beat. Not having that second to think anymore, to go and play fast, it's been making a difference in my play so far.
"I'm always open for anything, whatever it takes to get better, and there's a lot I need to get better at. It's going to be a good year."
But can Grasu win the starting job?
The third-round pick of 2015 has plenty to prove and faces tough competition on the depth chart. The Bears could slide Whitehair into the role of center if they so desire.
It would seem odd for the Bears to give up on a second-year player who has made the necessary improvements. Still, Fox wants to find the best five players to protect Jay Cutler.
Certainly, it will be interesting to see how the Bears line up on the offensive line when Week 1 arrives.
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