The Bears have tried numerous combinations on the right side of the offensive line ever since Jay Cutler landed in Chicago. If Thursday's preseason game was any indication, Chicago may have finally found its solution.
Rookies Kyle Long and Jordan Mills were both given the opportunity to start with the first team against the Chargers, and neither disappointed.
It was an extremely inauspicious start for the offense, as Cutler was sacked twice and fumbled on the opening drive, though pressure on both plays came from the left side of the line. After the forgetful first series, the rookie duo went to work.
On Chicago's second possession, the first five plays went to the right side of the field. The series was capped off with a 5-yard touchdown pass from Cutler to Marshall. During the drive, Long and Mills played stout along the line, never allowing their defenders to put any kind of pressure on No. 6.
Despite his positive performance the son of Hall of Famer Howie Long was modest in his assessment.
"It's never as good or as bad as you think it is, so we'll take a look at the film and see how it turned out," Long said. "But, I didn't end up on my back, so that's alright. As I said, we take a look at the film and try to evaluate."
Being level-headed is one thing, but Long's performance only got better as the game went on.
On a designed roll-out to the right, Long and Mills stayed with their blocks, allowing Cutler to hit Marshall in stride for a 19-yard gain. Matt Forte finished the drive with a touchdown behind another impressive block from Long.
The coaching staff let the rookies finish off the remainder of the first half, extra work which Long appreciated.
"As rookies, you need as many snaps as you can get," he said. "I know it's beneficial to me, and I'm sure Jordan [Mills] will echo the same thing. You get out there and get as many snaps as you can to be put in as many different scenarios as you can be so you can be prepared when the season comes around."
With the extra time put in Thursday night, Long showed glimpses of why he was a first-round selection in April's NFL Draft.
The former Oregon guard displayed the ability to pull, get to the second level and finish his blocks. His dominance Thursday night was best displayed late in the first half.
On a Michael Bush run up the middle, Long steamrolled San Diego defensive end Jarius Wynn that drew a loud ovation from the Soldier Field crowd.
And although he gave his opponents problems all night, one Charger defender wasn't ready to praise the rookie just yet.
"Who? I wasn't even paying attention to be honest," perennial Pro Bowler Dwight Freeney told CSNChicago.com.
Long career ahead?
It wasn't just Long that stood out against San Diego. The less heralded rookie from Louisiana Tech made his presence felt, too.
Offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer gave the starting right tackle job to Mills over last year's left tackle J'Marcus Webb earlier in the week, and Mills was tasked with a tough assignment Thursday night.
Lined up most of the night opposite Freeney, Mills wanted to make sure the former Colt didn't touch his quarterback.
"That's one of the best pass rushers that's ever played the game, Mills said. "To go against him, it was an honor. When the lights come on and the clock starts, it's game time. There was no way I was going to let him touch my quarterback."
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Not only did Mills shut down Freeney in the first half, he didn't allow a single Charger to get even remotely close to Cutler.
The fifth-round draft pick turned a few heads with his play and also made a believer out of Freeney.
"I have a long career ahead of me, keep working and stay healthy," Mills said Freeney told him after the game.
Singing the rookies praise
Long and Mills have improved week-by-week and Thursday's game showed why the coaching staff is so high on the two rookies.
Head coach Marc Trestman liked what he saw out of Long, but did his best to stay level-headed in his evaluation.
"I'm going to look forward to watching the tape. I did see some good things that I really want to hold on the evaluation," Trestman said. "I can tell you from practice, and I've said it for the past week, he is not making incremental increases in his play. He is really ascending a little bit quicker than that. Now we aren't going to get ahead of ourselves. It's the first time he's played and he's played very little in his life. So we will look at the tape and do a better job evaluating how he played in his first game."
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Trestman wasn't the only one that was happy with the offensive line's performance against the Chargers.
Cutler was only sacked twice, and one was due to him holding the ball too long in the pocket. Since Cutler arrived in Chicago, he's been no stranger to picking himself off the grass and was happy that wasn't the case against San Diego.
"They did well and were fired up and excited to be out there," Cutler said. "I don't think they were nervous by any means. They run-blocked well and their pass protection was just as good. We'll keep going with those guys and I know [Aaron] Kromer will coach them up. I'm sure there are corrections to be made, but I was at ease having them in, which is nice."