Over the past couple of seasons, the Bears’ offense has been dragged down by an offensive line that, at best, was probably ranked somewhere in the bottom third of the league.
After numerous off-seasons of trying to fix the line through coaching, the Bears finally attempted to address this by drafting guard Kyle Long of Oregon in the first round of the draft, and signed two-time Pro-Bowl selection Jermon Bushrod, who was previously with the New Orleans Saints.
A surprise of the season could be Jordan Mills, a rookie tackle who the Bears drafted in the fifth round this off-season. He was drafted as insurance to the talented but inconsistent J’Marcus Webb just in case something more came of his incident off the field.
However, after bonding with Long through rookie mini-camp and learning the ropes from Long and offensive line coach Aaron Kromer, Mills is now listed as the starting right tackle on the offensive line.
After starting the previous two preseason games for the Bears, Long and Mills have looked like a very capable and forceful pair on the right side of the line, and figure to be the anchors of the running game. Matt Forte has no doubt been very pleased with the rookies’ play, as he has really lit it up in the playing time he has seen in the preseason.
Having a solid right side of the line means two things. 1: They will be able to run the ball much more effectively, and Forte will be able to finally run free for big yards. And 2: With an improved run game, quarterback Jay Cutler will have more time to throw due to the huge threat of the run game.
Bushrod will also be a great and welcome addition to the offensive line. Many believe that his two Pro-Bowl selections in the previous two seasons have to do with the fact that New Orleans’ offense was so high powered and fast pace, the level of play of the line was bolstered due to that. But despite this, Bushrod has to be a massive upgrade over Webb, who at best was bad last season.
The defense held up more than its end of the bargain last season, leading the league in takeaways by more than nine last season and ranking fifth in total yards allowed. They were the engine to a team that started out 7-1 last season before finishing just 10-6, losing out to the Minnesota Vikings for the final playoff spot due to a tiebreaker. Once the defense stopped scoring off takeaways at a historic rate, the team came back down to earth, and played like a team that couldn’t score much of anything.
This season is a year in transition, should the team not make the playoffs, you could potentially see Cutler let go, as well as many of the veteran defensive players such as Julius Peppers, Charles Tillman and Lance Briggs. It’s up to new head coach Marc Trestman to turn the team into a great offense. And, if the defense continues to play at a high level, they can be one of the elite teams in the league, and for years to come.
Follow Tim Carroll on Twitter!