BOURBONNAIS – Training camp is finishing for the Bears, who break camp and return to Chicago permanently on Wednesday. What is not finishing is the starting offensive line, despite some appearances to the contrary.
The message publicly and privately is exactly the same: The best five will play and that “best five” is still in a molten state. The point being stressed is that absolutely nothing is set in any kind of stone, whether the demotion of J’Marcus Webb from starting right tackle to backup left or the promotion of rookie Jordan Mills to starting right tackle.
“As we said all along, we’re going to continue to move the guys around up front and find the five guys who most gel together, and most fit together,” insisted offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer. “There’s been a lot of production out of that [right] side, and the whole offensive line this week in pass protection and in our run game. We’re going in the right direction [but] we still have a long way to go.”
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Four of the five starting jobs in fact are set. Veterans Roberto Garza at center, Matt Slauson at left guard and Jermon Bushrod at left tackle, plus rookie Kyle Long at right guard. Long has played with ferocity and improving cognition of the offense and the only question with him is what position he may play long-term.
“We’re going to let that whole process evolve, but where [Long] is right now, he’s picking it up,” said coach Marc Trestman. “He’s not doing it in increments, he’s picking it up in big steps each and every day.”
The situation is muddled ever so slightly because coaches acknowledge that the players are frequently still in “think” mode rather than “go” mode. The evaluation task is then complicated by factoring in how a player will perform as his awareness moves beyond thinking through the play call and assignments.
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Most important perhaps, the quarterback that Long and Mills are protecting appears to have confidence in the rookies, some from personal experience.
“I've played with rookie [linemen] before,” Jay Cutler said. “Ryan Clady [three-time Pro Bowl left tackle] was a rookie in my third year in Denver, and did a great job. The two rookies we got right now, I think they're pretty far along. They're really talented guys physically. We'll get them caught up mentally.
“They want to be in there, they want to do a good job and that's the most important thing. If you've got a guy that wants to do it, we'll figure out a way.”
With them or someone else.