BOURBONNAIS – Saturday night, before the Bears returned to a practice that would see rookies Kyle Long and Jordan Mills elevated to the No. 1 offensive line, a few of the rookies were talking, among them Long, receiver Marcus Rucker and defensive end Cornelius Washington.
Washington had met Long while the two were at the Senior Bowl. After Friday’s Carolina game, Long waved Washington over to meet his Hall of Fame dad Howie in the tunnel. Now Washington had a fun what-if thought.
“We were just talking about how cool would it be if Kyle and Jordan started running with the 1’s,” Washington said, shaking head, “and then it happened. The next day we’re in the locker room before practice and saying, ‘Wow. It’s happening.’”
Something indeed seems to be happening with the Bears’ 2013 rookie class, beyond the obvious that most of them already are in starting lineups. No. 1 Long is starting at right guard. No. 2 Jonathan Bostic is starting at middle linebacker. No. 4 Khaseem Greene has been on all four special-teams units. No. 5 Mills is the starting right tackle.
Rookies can be outsiders simply by virtue of their newness. But coach Marc Trestman has worked at a culture of camaraderie within the team, one that transcends position groups or sides of the football. The rookies are already there.
In the locker room after the Panthers game, it was defensive coordinator Mel Tucker who sought Long out to commend him not just for his play, but also for his work against Tucker’s rookie linebackers and Long’s draft classmantes Bostic and Greene.
“And coach Trestman wants all of us coaches to interact with players on both sides of the ball,” Tucker said. “We’re all one team but it’s fun to have time with all of the guys. We have each other’s best interests at heart.”
The seed has taken with the newest Bears, who project to be parts of the core in years to come. The rookies hang together away from practice, frequently eat together, “because you already knew each other, went to the [rookie] symposium together,” Washington said. “All for one, one for all, win as a team.”
When Bostic picked off a Cam Newton pass and ran it 51 yards for a touchdown last Friday, the only player more ecstatic than the rookie linebacker was Mills.
“Seeing Jon in his first start catch that ‘pick,’ I was the first one running down the field to congratulate him,” Mills said, laughing. “We all came here together, we’re in the same draft class, we came as brothers and friends and if one of us does good, we all do good.”
The good and the bad
No one was happier for Mills’ promotion to starting right tackle this week than Washington. Indeed, when the two were third-stringers in the early days of training camp, they were faced off primarily against each other in matchups like pass-protection drills.
Mills had more of the upper hand but said that going against Washington, who is in and out of the No. 2 defense, was part of his own progress, even if it meant going against a friend.
“It’s a little hard,” Mills admitted, “but I got drafted for a reason and he got drafted for a reason. He’s a great player and is going to be a great D-end in this league.
“We talk every day about keeping working, to help each other and helping the Bears get to the ultimate goal.”