Bears center Sam Mustipher will fulfill a lifelong dream Sunday when he makes his first NFL start.
“I’ve been playing football since I was 5 years old,” the 24-year-old Mustipher said. “Growing up, football was all I knew. My dad was a high school football coach. I used to ride on the bus to the JV games.
“I’ve never played quarterback, I never threw a ball. I've always played offensive line andádefensive line. A lot of people dream about throwing that touchdown pass. I dreamed about making that clean block on the best defensive player you can.”
Mustipher should have plenty of opportunities to do that Sunday against the New Orleans Saints.
The Bears pulled Mustipher up from the practice squad on Oct. 14 following James Daniels’ pectoral injury. Daniels, the Bears’ starting left guard, had been the backup center in an emergency. When Daniels went down, likely for the year, the Bears needed someone with center experience on the active roster.
Center Cody Whitehair suffered a calf injury Monday night against the Los Angeles Rams, and Mustipher found himself making his NFL debut. Whitehair is listed as “out” for Sunday’s game against New Orleans, meaning Mustipher will step in again.
The Maryland native has been sitting in on quarterback meetings in order to prepare, in addition to his meetings with the offensive line.
“Cody goes and I feel like if I'm the second-string center, I want to be ready each and every week,” Mustipher said. “So if Cody is there, then I'm there. He's prepared me very well to do that.”
Bears offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said those meetings are invaluable for the center and quarterback to look at the film and make sure they’re on the same page.
“Everybody focuses on the quarterback, but man, the center does so much communication,” Lazor said.
They will go over blitz looks from their opponent, they will talk about blocking schemes and they will discuss the run game. Lazor said the Bears have “unbelievable confidence” in Mustipher.
Bears rookie tight end Cole Kmet overlapped with Mustipher for two years at Notre Dame. Kmet called Mustipher a “really smart football player.” Don’t just take Kmet’s word for it – Mustipher was a computer science major at Notre Dame.
Bears head coach Matt Nagy said Mustipher is a “natural-born leader.”
“The one thing I would say with a guy like Sam Mustipher is here’s a guy that takes the game extremely seriously,” Nagy said. “He’s been playing center for along time.”
Assuming Rashaad Coward starts again at left guard in Daniels’ spot, as he has in the previous two games, the Bears will be starting two undrafted linemen on their offensive line. This is a Bears offensive line that has struggled to run the ball in recent weeks.
They will need the interior of the offensive line to be at its best if that trend is going to change. It starts with the center.
“He’s only going to get better,” Lazor said of Mustipher. “You’re talking about a young player who’s tough, smart, hungry. It’s really important to him. Typically, over the years, that’s the formula for a guy that’s going to keep getting better and better.”