"Isn't that great? Isn't competition wonderful?" GM Phil Emery said after the draft. "Competition makes you better and that's what we're excited about. We feel very good about the people that were added and we feel very good about the kind of response we'll get from the veteran players and, man, are we excited about the competition level that's going to create."
Mills started four games at guard his freshman season but spent the rest of his collegiate career at right tackle. The Bears believe he has the flexibility to play both positions.
"There's definitely a chance [he'll play guard]," said Emery. "We'll probably start him out at right tackle and let him learn a little bit and we'll move him around. Big part of the reason we drafted him was his versatility."
Emery also discussed the difficulty of scouting Mills in Tech's up-tempo offense.
"Because of their system, it's very interesting watching Lousisiana Tech's tape. You're exhausted by the end of the day. I mean they average well over 100 plays a game," Emery said. "In their system, running that many plays, all he played was tackle. there were a lot of plays, a lot of two-point stance so you really didn't get see how well he'd bend for the guard position where you have to achieve some leverage and get pad-under-pad. They were always up in a two-point, they were never in a three-point because of their tempo.
"So being able to see him at the Senior Bowl at guard at how well he'd bend, in terms of hip, knee, and ankle flexibility, helped him a lot; helped him in our eyes. That gave him position flexibility to us and upside. The more you can bend the more upside you have to go with your frame and your athletic ability. That helped him a lot. The all-star game helped him a lot."
As we all know, an NFL general manager is going to talk up the guy he just drafted. For more objective evaluation of Mills' skill set, let's go to the film room.
|Height||Weight||Arms||Hands||40-Yard Dash||Broad Jump||Vertical Jump||20-Yard Shuttle||3-Cone Drill|
Mills is definitely athletic. He has quick feet and great lateral agility. He's very good at blocking on the move and shows solid awareness in zone sets, particularly at the second level. On zone stretch runs, he can be a weapon. In man sets, when he keeps his pads low, he flashes power at the point of attack and nastiness when finishing plays. He's not a mauler but he has good functional strength.
He's not outstanding in pass protection but he shows some encouraging habits. He's very cognizant of where the pass rush is coming from and always blocks the right defender. Mills also has strong hands and, once he gets his big mitts on the defender, he typically stays locked on.
Mills has a long way to go in pass protection, particularly if he's going to play tackle at the next level. In particular, his footwork is terrible. Coming out of his stance, he backpedals instead of using a kick step. This creates horrible balance at the snap. It also doesn't allow him to sink his base and put himself into position to close off the corner. He's also fairly slow out of his stance and will struggle mightily against NFL stpeed rushers.
As a run blocker, balance is again an issue. He must learn to spread his feet and use his wide base to drive defenders. Mills also plays too high more often than not, which causes him to catch blockers with little balance. At that point, the defender just has to shuck him to the side to make a play. Another bad trait is his tendency to give away the play before the snap, leaning too far forward on run plays and sinking too far back on his heels for pass plays. He must find more consistency in his snap pre-snap.
Mills' athleticism and quick feet are very impressive. Working down tracks in zone schemes, he can have a lot of success as a run blocker at the next level. He also demonstrates solid awareness and can peel off double teams to pick off linebackers.
Beyond that, Mills is very limited, particularly in pass protection. Based on his collegiate film, there is no way he'll be able to handle quick edge rushers any time soon. His technique, balance and first step are all severely lacking.
For those reasons, his skill set appears better suited for guard, where he won't be exposed against speedy edge rushers. If Mills can improve his fundamentals and learn to keep his pads low, he can be an effective interior blocker. No matter his position, he'll need a lot of work, particularly in his fundamentals, if he's ever going to be a starting offensive lineman for the Bears.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.