The offensive line of the Chicago Bears is playing at a level not seen in the Windy City for many, many years. For the first time in his career in Chicago, Jay Cutler has not been sacked in two straight weeks. In fact, he's gone without a sack in three of the past four contests, which is simply unheard of for a quarterback that has been running for his life since 2009.
Credit goes to Bears general manager Phil Emery, who saw the need for fresh blood up front and acquired four new offensive-line starters this past offseason. The biggest surprise in that group is rookie Jordan Mills, selected by Emery in the fifth round of this year's draft, who has performed better this season than anyone could have expected.
Bear Report goes one-on-one with Mills to discuss last week's victory over the New York Giants and his rookie season through six weeks.
"It was a hard fought game and an interesting one. The fact that we played after such a short break definitely made it much more challenging. As a rookie I had no idea how to handle a situation like that where you play one game, then just a few days later you're out there again, with that last time knowing that you're under national-sports-fan scrutiny.
"I can't thank the vets enough for getting me to this point. It was particularly important leading up to last week as we had such a short time to prepare. They helped me by telling me how to rest my body properly, how to alter my diet for the short-term recovery and how to keep my poise.
"Having only walkthroughs for practice last week made it more difficult to learn what I had to know for the Giants game. Again, that's where the vets came in and helped me. They taught me to translate what we were mostly talking about to what I'd be doing on the field.
"When I look back at last week, then think back to my college days only a year ago, I'm amazed to have had his opportunity. Sure there has been pressure, but it's also been fun. It's all on the vets who tell us how to stay loose and still be effective. It's a very serious game when you're out there but they've let me know that it's OK to laugh a little too. If you get too tight, you won't be effective."
What was it like to play in your first primetime game on national television?
"Pretty cool. Every once in a while when there was a commercial break, I'd glance along the sidelines and see some big name former player out there watching us. I'm sure I saw [Brett] Favre at one point. Then I'd refocus and get my mind back in the game."
What's it like to start as a rookie knowing your job is to protect a very valuable quarterback?
"It's fun. This is a dream come true. I'm sure that every rookie in the NFL will say that but it's definitely true. I look along our line and I see guys I'd only watched on TV from home. Now we're teammates and that's almost beyond my imagination."
What part of your game still needs work?
"Everything. I understand that I'm at the bottom of the NFL learning curve. I am out on the field every day in practice working on techniques and fundamentals.
"Sometimes when I am in a game I will realize right after a particular play that I haven't done things correctly. I try to do better the next snap. Other times, I go back and study film. There's a lot that needs improvement but I'm patient and I work hard so I am confident that I will improve with time.
"I am fortunate in that I have cousins who are in the NFL, so the situation isn't completely foreign to me. I faced one of them tonight, Brandon Jacobs of the Giants. We talked a little before and after the game. He always tells me even though I'm a rookie, to take everything slow and to approach the game like I'm a veteran.
"Watching our team go to work is a real pleasure for me. I look to my left and see [Roberto] Garza and [Matt] Slauson. There's [Jermon] Bushrod and Jonathan Scott, [Lance] Briggs, Peanut [Tillman], [Tim] Jennings and Brandon Marshall for example. What better football players are out there? Their technique is textbook but I also like their overall attitude. It's not all about themselves but about the team. They've got a great sense of humor and relate well to all of us.
"Matt Forte is another impressive player. Nothing stops him. Alshon Jeffery is fun to watch. [Martellus] Bennett with his dazzling play and crazy jokes. There are so many others who are real stars. There's never a dull moment. We experience everything together. Wins, losses, ups and downs, we are together as a team. I'm a rookie following their lead and trying to absorb what they teach. It doesn't get better than that.
"I'm taking things one day at a time, one play at a time. Everything to me is breathtaking. I try to step back and humble myself and take it all in. To be around these great veterans, this great team, this great organization that started professional football, to be a part of it makes me so glad to be a Chicago Bear."
Beth Gorr has been covering the Bears for the last 12 years and is the author of Bear Memories: The Chicago-Green Bay Rivalry. She is currently working on a second book about early Bears history.