Heart to heart helps Bears’ right tackle Bobby Massie figure it out
It takes a good friend to tell a struggling player he's on the verge of losing his starting job. That's precisely what LeCharles Bentley, the former Pro Bowl center who trains offensive linemen in Arizona, told Bobby Massie after the first month of the season.
The Bears' new right tackle signed an $18 million, three-year contract in free agency, a deal that tied him as the seventh-highest paid player at his position across the league, and was making it look like McCaskey money not well spent.
Massie allowed three quarterbacks sacks through the first four games and there were pressures. He was billed as a run blocker with talent to develop as a pass blocker after four seasons and 46 starts with the Cardinals when he arrived. But he looked almost lost on the field. Some wondered if the team was nearing the point of turning to veteran Mike Adams to allow Massie to step back and figure things out.
"It was (really bad), man," Massie said. "I was in a dark place because I looked (really bad). I was in a tough spot. I just had to climb out of it."
Bentley has known Massie since he was a junior at Mississippi and their relationship has evolved to the point he considers him a younger brother. In that sense, he loves pushing his little brother, even relishing the chance to be hard on him. But this wasn't one of those spots.
"These are still people we are talking about and the fact you are big, the fact you are strong, the fact you are making money and doing what many people in the world wish they could do, it doesn't excuse you dealing with the struggles of being a human being," Bentley said. "And for Bobby there was an adjustment period of having lived his entire life not being good enough, being considered someone that had a high level of talent but could not quite achieve said high level of talent, the proverbial underachiever.
"But to go through your career early on and garner an opportunity in free agency and then now be paid like an elite performer and be expected to perform like an elite performer, that's a tremendous shift in your existence as a person and that takes time for someone to adapt to and embrace and I want to labor this point because it's so important.
"Some people might read this and be like, 'Well, he's making all this money and blah, blah, blah.' Look, as I said, many (observers) just see numbers, see helmets on a football field but they're still people out there and (you must) understand or appreciate the back story of the people (you) are watching each and every week."
After the fourth game, a victory over the Lions when Massie surrendered a sack against Kerry Hyder, Massie got on the phone with Bentley.
"We just had a heart to heart," Massie said. "He told me the potential of what could happen if I kept playing that way and what can happen if I change it around."
Massie has been friends with right guard Kyle Long and they train with Bentley. But no one knew his game better than reserve guard Ted Larsen, who now is starting. They were teammates with the Cardinals the previous two seasons.
"I was surprised because I knew he is a better player," Larsen said. "He had never played for another team and that is always an adjustment but he was struggling. He told me he thought he was one game away from being benched."
Massie, 27, put it together the next week in a one-point loss to the Jaguars, who were rushing the passer with success entering that game. The Bears have felt much more comfortable about his performance since. The offense is 10th in the NFL, allowing a sack on just roughly 5 percent of pass attempts. Massie hasn't been perfect but he has played well enough for the Bears to feel good about the production and the contract.
"He has played better," offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said. "I think he has gotten better each week. Just being in the offense longer, he's starting to get a better feel for the roles and how we do things here. That has been the biggest thing."
General manager Ryan Pace has said he wants to make sure the offensive line always is stocked and believes in adding to it on an annual basis. The Bears have found a foundation to build upon with rookie center Cody Whitehair and have left guard Josh Sitton signed for two more seasons. They surely will look to fortify the line further this offseason but at least they're confident now about Massie.
"I kind of took the high road instead of the low road," Massie said. "A lot of guys don't come back from that."
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