When new Bears are informed that their new training camp home would be in a town called Bourbonnais at a place called Olivet Nazarene University, more than a few said, “Where?”
Not Dennis Roland.
The veteran tackle, signed last week and already working with the No. 2 offense at right tackle, grew up watching practices on ONU fields. His father Dennis, who passed away in 2008, coached at ONU from 1986-1990 (son Dennis was three when the family moved there) and “it’s good to be back here and come out on some of the same fields I grew up watching his team’s practice,” Roland said.
Roland, 31, was signed after swing-tackle Eben Britton suffered a hamstring injury last week in practice and is out for an undetermined time. Roland, who has played in 71 NFL games and started 30, is 6-foot-9, 320 pounds and has done exactly what Britton did so effectively last year: provide depth at two positions and work as an extra offensive lineman in “heavy” personnel packages.
The Bears’ front five — Jermon Bushrod, Matt Slauson, Roberto Garza, Kyle Long, Jordan Mills — are set. But depth is hugely critical, as the defensive-line woes last season illustrated, and the competition for at least four additional slots warrants more than just casual interest, with a handful of “favorites:”
Besides Roland and Britton, center/guard Brian de la Puente has NFL experience with New Orleans; guard/tackle Michael Ola played for Marc Trestman with the Montreal Alouettes. And the Bears invested a late draft choice in tackle Charles Leno Jr.
When the call came from the Bears, Roland was on his way to practice of a different kind, as a volunteer high-school coach in Georgia. “I got to the high school, told the coach I had to go, went home and packed, and I was excited,” he said. “This is what I wanted, an opportunity at a shot.”
Roland, who played at Georgia, went undrafted but was signed by the Dallas Cowboys in 2006. After Dallas released him, he spent that season and the next with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
But his breakthrough came in 2009, his second with the Cincinnati Bengals. He played in all 16 games, starting 12, repeating those numbers in 2010. He was with the Bengals for six years, including 2013 when he was with the team for three weeks, released, then brought back for the final three weeks.
“When the season ended they weren’t sure what they wanted to do and I told them I would like to go home and see how I’m feeling,” Roland said. “A few months into it, I knew I wanted to keep playing.
“So I started getting ready and waited for a call.”