Bears stick with rookies Long, Mills
August, 19, 2013
By Michael C. Wright | ESPNChicago.com
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesRookies Jordan Mills, left, and Kyle Long appear to be on the verge of winning starting jobs.LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The rotation on the right side of the line the Chicago Bears originally claimed as part of their plan appears to be becoming more permanent, with rookies Kyle Long and Jordan Mills set to start at right guard and right tackle, respectively, for the second straight game Friday at Oakland.
The first- and fifth-round picks, respectively, manned the right side at guard and tackle on the first-team offense Thursday when the club defeated the San Diego Chargers 33-28, and the pair garnered positive reviews.
"The right side of the line, we'll keep it the same this week," Bears coach Marc Trestman said. "There was enough good things that happened that we feel that we want to give them another opportunity to go out and play a little bit more against the first group and see what they can do."
Given the importance of the third preseason game, which is widely considered somewhat of a dress rehearsal when the starters receive extensive playing time, it's likely the plan for the team now is to go forward into the regular season with Long and Mills as the No. 1s at their respective positions. Long and Mills have participated in 86 snaps apiece so far this preseason, with the duo combining to allow only one quarterback hit and three hurries.
One telling moment for the rookies came near the end of the first quarter against the Chargers. Holding possession at the San Diego 11 with 1:32 left in the first quarter, Matt Forte ran the ball three times in a row to the right side behind Mills and Long. Forte gained 11 yards on those three carries, and scored on a 3-yard touchdown that put the Bears up 14-0 after Robbie Gould's extra-point kick.
"They were athletic. They were physical. Jordan (Mills) got to play against (Dwight) Freeney a couple of snaps and learned a lot in those couple of snaps," Trestman said. "We're not ready to pass judgment yet overall. We're just gonna let this thing play out. But to be as straightforward as I can, it was a positive experience for our football team to have them out there. They kept their poise, did a lot of good things. They made mistakes as well that we think they can improve on. We'll see how it goes another week."
The latest development could jeopardize the Bears tenure of veteran right tackle J'Marcus Webb, who worked with the starters all offseason and for the early part of training camp. Webb started at right tackle in the team's preseason opener at Carolina, but put together an up-and-down performance.
A source confirmed the team recently reduced Webb's scheduled 2013 base salary of $1.323 million to the league minimum ($630,000) for a four-year veteran. But as of early Monday afternoon, the Bears hadn't officially sent details of the restructured deal to the union.
Webb's salary reduction provides some cap room for the Bears, while moving the veteran offensive tackle's pay to a level more commensurate with that of a backup. Even with the reduced salary, Webb carries a larger cap charge ($645,000) than Mills, who received a signing bonus of $164,800 and counts $446,200 against the cap in 2013, $536,200 in 2014 and 626,200 in 2015. Webb has started in 44 consecutive games dating back to 2010, but the streak will likely come to an end Sept. 8 when the Bears host the Cincinnati Bengals in the regular-season opener.
As for the rookie offensive linemen, they participated in 51 snaps apiece against the Carolina Panthers in the exhibition opener, and played 15 snaps apiece (35 apiece, total) during a first quarter against the Chargers in which the Bears rolled up 100 yards -- including 74 on the ground -- and converted 67 percent of their third downs. Quarterback Jay Cutler suffered a pair of sacks, but neither of those came from pressure on the right side, where Long and Mill were playing.
Trestman stressed that the staff has seen enough from the club's top players to make determinations about where they fit on the roster, but would like to see the entire group work together for a more extended period so the players can gain more chemistry. That's why Long, Mills and the rest of the starters are likely to play approximately three quarters against the Raiders.
For the preseason finale on Aug. 29 against Cleveland, it's likely the club will sit the majority of the starters.
"We've seen enough of the top guys, but we haven't seen them together against competition other than the Chicago Bears. I think it's important that they get out from a conditioning aspect, from a reps aspect, from playing through more adversity or more success, just to get them a chance to play together," Trestman said. "There are a lot of new guys in that lineup. You line up in the right formation and you've got three new players on the team who weren't here last year alone in the right guard, the right tackle and the tight end. So that's different, and there's chemistry and communication that goes into those guys working together. We need the reps. We're gonna do that. We're gonna keep them in there and let them work."