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Emma: Cody Whitehair Could Make Instant Impact For Bears

By Chris Emma--

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) -- Work for Cody Whitehair began early in the morning on his family's Kansas farm.

Throughout his teenage years, Whitehair's work day began at 6 a.m. and sometimes went until 11 p.m., maintaining the farm with his family. Before Whitehair was throwing around Big 12 defensive linemen at Kansas State, he was heaving hay bales.

"I just like to be on a farm," Whitehair said. "I like the outdoors, and I like to work hard. It's just what I am, it's who I am, it's what I like to do."

Whitehair's time on the farm stopped when he arrived in the Little Apple of Manhattan, Kansas and joined Bill Snyder's program. He then applied that work ethic to football, learning to play four positions on the offensive line as a four-year starter.

With the Wildcats, Snyder instilled values in Whitehair that stay with him today as the Bears' second-round draft pick.

"Coming in here, you got to be a consistent player," Whitehair said. "You're trying to earn a job. If you're consistent and do things right, you got a better shot at that."

The Bears' brass fell in love with Whitehair's no-nonsense demeanor, first at the Senior Bowl, then again in April during a meeting at Halas Hall. Bears coach John Fox referred to Whitehair as a "throwback player" and made it clear this is the kind of player he can win with in Chicago.

Following the surprising pick of Whitehair in the second round -- which saw the Bears twice trade down to take a player at a guard position of great depth -- veteran guard Matt Slauson was cut to make room for the rookie. Bears general manager Ryan Pace spoke of creating competition within the interior line, then made the stunning move to let Slauson loose.

Consider that quite the endorsement in what Whitehair can do with the Bears.

"This is what you want out of an offensive lineman," Pace said of Whitehair. "He's smart, he's tough, he's instinctive, he loves the weight room. Those are all things I like. Good player that we're excited to have that is a versatile player.

"He's an aggressive player, he's really good in space, he plays with great inside hand placement and he's got strong hands. I love offensive linemen with strong inside hands -- when they latch on, you can't get rid of them. He's a very difficult player to shed once he gets hands on your chest."

Whitehair's vicious hands have been touted just as much as his character. The Bears feel he's an ideal fit to bolster the line and mesh into Fox's rebuilt Bears locker room.

By taking Whitehair, the Bears are banking on the prospects of an interior line that should include Whitehair at left guard, Hroniss Grasu at center and Kyle Long at right guard -- a young, promising group. If that doesn't sustain, the team brought in veterans Manny Ramirez and Ted Larsen as insurance policies.

There's pressure on Whitehair to make an immediate impact, especially after Slauson was let go. Last season, some believed Slauson played at a Pro Bowl level, with Long stating that his teammate was snubbed.

Whitehair took notice to the Bears' release of Slauson. He's most certainly a long-term investment for the team but isn't looking at it that way.

"Even though I got drafted, it's not a guaranteed spot," Whitehair said. "I could get cut in the next days, too."

The Bears must identify whether Whitehair is indeed their starting left guard, a process that began this past weekend at rookie mini-camp. Whitehair could also work at center instead of Grasu or even take on the position of left tackle. If there's a surprise move of Long to left tackle, Whitehair could take on right guard if so desired.

Whitehair became the best fit for the Bears because of his ability to move upfield. Now, it's just a matter of finding his place.

"He's got the skill set to play in any offense, because he's athletic enough," Bears offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said. "He's got a really strong lower body and he can get to the second level."

Many NFL evaluators believed Whitehair to be a first-round talent. His fall to the 55th pick of the draft was a surprise, something that surely pleased the Bears.

Whitehair emulates his game after Pro Bowl guard Zack Martin of the Cowboys. They are built similarly and have that same athleticism in their frames. Perhaps Whitehair has Martin potential.

Work is all that's on Whitehair's mind, fighting for his future with the Bears. He's approaching the NFL with a farmer boy's demeanor.

"Give it your all -- every day," Whitehair said. "This is a business. You're trying to earn your job. Just give it your all."

Chris Emma covers the Chicago sports scene and more for Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670 and like his Facebook page.

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