By Dan Durkin-
(CBS) The Bears struggle to field a competent offensive line is well documented. Since arriving in 2009, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler has been the second most hit quarterback in the league.
The impact of the previous regime’s repeated failure to procure, evaluate and develop offensive line talent is vast. It’s been the difference between wins and losses, created staff turnover, affected career longevity and blurred player – specifically Cutler – evaluation.
Judging by the moves Phil Emery’s made both on and off the field, he and the new offensive staff took an objective look at the collection of “talent” at the position and concluded: not good enough.
Fifth-round draft pick Jordan Mills (Louisiana Tech) is one of four new additions to the line. After reviewing several of Mills’ game tapes and his performance at the Senior Bowl, here’s my summary of what impressed me, what didn’t impress me, areas for improvement, and what his prospects are for the 2013 season.
Plays with a mean streak. Mills is noticeably aggressive on the field, and plays to the whistle. Once he’s latched on with his hands and in control of an engagement, he finishes his blocks. Mills pancaked several opponents in games and during individual drills in the Senior Bowl, showing no mercy when his opponents had clearly given up.
Disciplined in zone-blocking principles. Mills played in a zone-blocking scheme, and displayed a firm understanding of his assignments. When covered at the first-level, Mills is an effective drive blocker. When uncovered or done helping secure a first-level block, he moves quite well for a man his size (6’5”, 316) to the second-level.
Footwork. Mills was inconsistent with his footwork in both pass pro and run blocking. Mills will need to be broken of the vertical set pass blocking principles taught by Sonny Dykes. To explain, vertical sets teach lineman to backpedal in unison instead of kick-sliding. This creates a narrow, imbalanced base, which made Mills very susceptible to speed rushes and counter moves. In the run game, Mills would occasionally stop his feet on impact, which led to him losing leverage battles at the point of attack.
Hand placement.This is tied to Mills’ footwork. When he establishes an unstable anchor/base with his lower body, he often reaches and misses to the outside of opponents’ pads with his hands. By sinking his hips, chopping his feet and keeping his back flat, Mills will be more accurate and powerful with his initial blow.
Areas for Improvement
Upper body strength. Mills lacks weight room strength – his 20 bench press reps were the third lowest among tackles – but plays with above average functional strength. Mills has strong hands once he’s in control, but he didn’t snap back the pads/helmet of his blocking assignment with his punch. He will benefit from an NFL strength and conditioning program, specifically concentrating on his upper body development.
Conditioning. In addition to spending time in the weight room, Mills must improve cardiovascularly. He wore down late in games, which exacerbated his footwork issues. Combining sloppy footwork and being a step slow out of your stance because you’re gassed derails the effectiveness of your teammates in the backfield.
Prospects for 2013
Mills likely won’t be a starter in 2013, but he adds quality, young depth to a group that desperately needs it. Looking down the road, Mills projects as a right tackle or guard prospect.
Mills could end up being an “outside-in” player, something I discussed in my Kyle Long spotlight. To recap, Mills footwork may prevent him from playing on the edge, so he could get kicked inside to guard.
Mills has the frame and demeanor scouts and coaches look for in an offensive line prospect. With proper dedication to getting in shape and being open to coaching, he could develop into a reliable NFL starter.
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Dan Durkin joined The Score’s columnist community after finishing runner-up in the 2011 Pepsi Max Score Search. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois where he was a member of the men’s football team (despite his best efforts to join the women’s team). Dan is a longtime Scorehead, known as Dan in Wicker Park – even though he no longer resides in Wicker Park – who will be sharing NFL analysis and opinions. You can follow Dan on Twitter @djdurkin. To read more of Dan’s blogs click here.