Kyle Long and Jordan Mills could be in for a rude welcome to the NFL. Then again, the rookies are no strangers to top defenses.
They practice against one, and they'll be staring at another when the Chicago Bears open the season against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday. Long insists he's ready for Geno Atkins.
"It will be a good opportunity," he said. "Luckily we have great guys we practice against every day and it gets us ready to go for Sundays."
The Bears made big moves after winning 10 games but missing the playoffs for the fifth time in six years, starting with the firing of Lovie Smith. They brought in Marc Trestman hoping he could help quarterback Jay Cutler reach his potential and inject some life into the offense. Much of that hinges on how an overhauled offensive line comes together.
General manager Phil Emery ripped up a group that ranked among the league's worst in recent years and decided to start over, leaving center Roberto Garza as the only returning starter.
He signed Pro Bowl left tackle Jermon Bushrod away from New Orleans and guard Matt Slauson from the New York Jets, giving Chicago two veterans on the left side of the line. On the right side, the Bears are going young — very young.
Is that a cause for concern? Mills said no and the reason is the veterans on the line.
"They keep us grounded," he said. "When we want to go full speed ahead, we have them there to take us down and tell us, 'Be patient, let the game come to you.'"
They're starting a fifth-round pick at tackle in Mills after he beat out the departed J'Marcus Webb, and are going with Long at guard after taking him in the first round despite his limited experience in college. A star pitcher in high school who was drafted by the Chicago White Sox, he went to Florida State on a baseball scholarship only to be forced out because of academic issues.
He also spent a night in jail because of a DUI and went to junior college before he ultimately emerged as a key figure in Chip Kelly's fast offense during his lone season at Oregon last year. He only made five starts, but the Bears believe he has the physical tools to succeed, not to mention the pedigree as the son of Hall of Famer Howie Long.
Kyle Long and Mills are also facing quite a test right from the start.
The Bengals set A franchise record with 51 sacks last season — 12½ by tackle Atkins and 11½ by defensive end Michael Johnson. That would be a test for any offensive line, let alone one with two new players on the right side.
The last time the Bears had two rookies start the opener on the offensive line was in 1983 with Jim Covert at left tackle and Rob Fada at left guard. Long will be Chicago's first rookie to start the opener at right guard in the Super Bowl era.
"That's really good trivia and everything," he said. "It's a good tidbit to know."
But his focus is on something bigger, far more important. It's about creating holes for Matt Forte and bringing an end to the days of Cutler serving as a human tackling dummy. The Bears are going with a West Coast offense, getting the ball out of Cutler's hands quicker. That should help cut down on the number of sacks, but the line still has to do its job.
The rookies will have to be quick studies.
"They're rookies so you know everything's not going to be perfect, but at the end of the day, they're willing to work," Bushrod said. "They're willing to work hard. They're putting the work in in the classroom. They just want to get better. As long as you've got them there, you have them in that mindset, the rest will take care of itself."
NOTES: Trestman insisted he hasn't decided if D.J. Williams or rookie Jonathan Bostic will start at middle linebacker. Williams sat out the preseason with a calf injury while Bostic impressed in his absence. Trestman would not commit to WR Earl Bennett, who's returning from a concussion, playing in the opener, either.
Online: AP NFL site: http://pro32.ap.org/