Hoge: Close Friends Long, Mills Make Case To Remain Starters
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By Adam Hoge-
SOLDIER FIELD (CBS) So that’s settled.
Rookie Kyle Long belongs on the field for the Chicago Bears.
Getting the start at right guard Thursday night against the Chargers, Long showed the Bears’ coaching staff exactly what they wanted to see, repeatedly getting to the second level on runs, anchoring strong on pass plays and pulling with ease when asked to.
“I didn’t end up on my back, so that’s all right,” Long said after the game.
Two weeks ago, the rookie stood outside the dining hall at Olivet Nazarene University and said he had never been forced to learn as much as he did during the first week of training camp. But if you watched him closely Thursday night in the Bears’ second preseason game, you wouldn’t even know he was a rookie who only played in 11 FBS level football games before getting drafted in the first round.
“He’s not making incremental increases in his play, he’s really ascending a little bit quicker than that,” Bears head coach Marc Trestman said. “Now, we’re not going to get ahead of ourselves, it’s really the first time he’s played and he hasn’t played a lot of football in his life, so we’ll look at the tape and do a better job evaluating how he played.”
Let’s be honest though, you don’t need to look at the tape to know that he graded out as an NFL starter Thursday night.
“Just checking in with (offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer) on the way off, he thought (Long) had a pretty good first time out,” Trestman admitted.
Granted, it’s only the second preseason game, but that doesn’t minimize the importance of what the right guard did against the Chargers. In just three weeks, Long has gone from a rookie who was well behind on mental reps to a physical beast the Bears can trust on Sundays.
Some will say that Long should be playing tackle, but the rookie has shown an ability to pull and maul as a lead blocker on run plays. It’s no coincidence that the Bears offense worked Thursday night because Matt Forte was effective. The running back ran for 74 yards on eight carries and Long played a huge role in that. The Bears need him inside in the running game just as much, if not more, than they need him at right tackle in the passing game.
The coaching staff hasn’t anointed Long the starter at right guard yet, but he proved Thursday he is learning his assignments quickly and picking up on the mental part of the game with ease. The physical part of his game was already evident the first day the Bears put the pads on in Bourbonnais.
But the preseason games are ultimately where guys win jobs and it’s safe to say Long won the second game-week over James Brown after the two were about even last week. Brown continued to be good enough Thursday night working with the backups, but he did allow a second-half tackle for loss.
Meanwhile, there was also a positive development next to Long as fellow rookie Jordan Mills was solid as the No. 1 right tackle. He was better as a run-blocker, but was good enough in pass protection and the Bears continue to like his attitude and tenacity. It’s something they worry about with J’Marcus Webb, who looked considerably worse last week when he was the No. 1 right tackle.
“I thought the two of them played very well from my perspective,” Trestman said about the rookies.
You’ll know if the Bears trust Mills — a fifth-round draft pick — if he starts next week against the Raiders in the third preseason game. But the coaching staff has to like the relationship between Long and Mills, who were roommates in Bourbonnais and have become close friends.
“Having Jordan Mills next to me helps out a lot,” Long said Thursday night. “We have a trust between one another.”
More importantly, Jay Cutler appears to have a trust in them as well.
“I was at was at ease having them in there,” he said after the game.
So we know who the quarterback wants starting on the right side of his offensive line. Little did Long and Mills know that Bears’ offensive linemen aren’t supposed to look that good in the preseason.
That’s a change Cutler will certainly welcome.
Adam Hoge covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.