New season, old questions for Bears: offensive line the subject of much discussion
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. – If it seems like the Chicago Bears have been here before, it's because they have.
On Tuesday, the Bears held their final Bourbonnais training camp workout with two rookies playing the right side of their starting offensive line, and starting middle linebacker D.J. Williams remained out indefinitely with a calf injury. Last year, the Bears completed training camp without starting middle linebacker Brian Urlacher due to a knee injury while their offensive line struggled through a constant state of flux.
Despite the similarities to last year, new coach Marc Trestman has come away from his first Bears camp feeling optimistic about the work done by the team.
"Just the work ethic of the team, I think, was built," he said. "We've got a chance to have a real strong backbone. It won't be the same team as it was last year, but we think it can be better."
If so, it could be with quarterback Jay Cutler throwing behind rookies Kyle Long and Jordan Mills on the right side of the offensive line. Trestman moved Long to starting right guard and Mills to starting right tackle this week and put tackle J'Marcus Webb and guard James Brown with the second team. They'll get playing time against San Diego's first string Thursday at Soldier Field in the second preseason game.
Cutler has been sacked more times than any quarterback in the NFL over the last three years, but says he isn't worried about inexperienced blockers.
"I've played with rookies before," he said. "Ryan Clady was a rookie that year, 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."
Trestman refused to call it a case of sending a message to Webb, who has often struggled in his 44 starts over three seasons and was shoved once by a frustrated Cutler against Green Bay last year.
"I think we've been very clear with J'Marcus about what we're doing," Trestman said. "I said it last week, that there's been an up-and-down performance level by J'Marcus. But we were still going to do this, we were still going to give work to the other guys and see what they could do, as well."
Mills, who played last year at Louisiana Tech, seemed to vault several players. Eben Britton had been battling Webb for starting right tackle last week after veteran Jonathan Scott went to the sidelines with a knee injury.
"It was unexpected, but you have to be ready in the NFL if somebody goes down or they want to make a switch-out," Mills said. "You have to be prepared and ready, and I was prepared and ready."
It hasn't been an entirely smooth transition. Mills, in particular, has had some struggles going against defensive ends Corey Wootton, Julius Peppers and Shea McClellin.
"I mean, they made mistakes just like everybody made mistakes today," Trestman said. "And as I said to Kyle and Jordan, 'I'm not concerned about the mistakes, I'm more concerned about the next play after the mistakes right now.' And they recaptured their poise, they went back in there and they did a lot of good things against a really dynamic (defensive) front today. The guys were coming after it big time."
The loss of Williams seems less an issue after plays made in his place by rookie middle linebacker Jonathan Bostic during the first preseason game against Carolina. Among them was a 51-yard interception return for a touchdown.
Bostic might be in the middle all the way until the regular season. Williams' calf injury required him to wear a cast until this week, and he still isn't ready to join practices.
The Bears break camp with a few other injury concerns. Wide receiver Earl Bennett has been out since Aug. 2 with his second concussion since December. Defensive tackle Henry Melton sustained a concussion in the preseason opener and is still out.
NOTE: The Bears return to Halas Hall Monday for practices. ... Running back Armando Allen had an MRI on a shoulder injury and is listed as week to week. Running back Curtis Brinkley was signed to the roster, and Michael Ford is taking snaps as third-string running back. ... Reserve tackle Jonathan Scott had an ailing knee drained and Trestman is optimistic he'll return to practice next week.