Chicago Bears offensive lineman Michael Ola has three NFL games under his belt. It’s been an up-and-down preseason for Ola, who has worked at right tackle with the starters for all three contests, yet the overall returns have been positive.
According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), he has allowed five QB hurries in 92 snaps, the most of any offensive lineman on the team. Yet Ola has yet to give up a sack or a quarterback hit, which is a good sign for his potential as a backup. Additionally, his positional versatility – he can play left tackle, right tackle, left guard and right guard – will likely earn him a spot on the final 53-man roster.
We caught up with Ola this week to get his thoughts on the preseason to this point and what he hopes to accomplish Thursday night against the Cleveland Browns.
“First road trip and it was a real experience. I learned the value of what we did last week when we were practicing with the noise. Man that stadium is loud. I found that once I was on the field it wasn’t all that distracting. There's a job to do and that becomes your focus. You learn to shut it out, make yourself comfortable in the atmosphere you’re in and do your job.”
How did your first NFL road trip compare to those you took in college and in the CFL?
“(laughs) There’s really no comparison. I went to a small school, Hampton University, and believe me, we weren’t traveling at the level that an NFL team does. No upscale hotels or chartered planes for us there. I also played in Montreal. No chartered planes there either. Last week was a completely new experience. Comfortable flights, nice hotels. I'm really cool doing that.
“The schedule of the trip worked well for me because of a problem I deal with constantly, which is insomnia. If you don’t sleep well at home, being on the road in a hotel in a different time zone doesn’t make much of a difference. I’m not getting a whole lot of sleep no matter where I am, probably due to bad habits from when I was young. Three hours of sleep? I can deal with it. I'd rather have 12 hours of sleep but I handle what I'm given.
“One thing that surprised me was the regimentation when you’re on the road. Everything is very structured. There is a schedule for when you have meetings, when you are working out, when you eat, when you’re supposed to rest. The people who come up with that definitely know what they are doing. I just followed along and did what I was told.
“It was surreal seeing the Seahawks across the line. My initial impression was to say to myself, ‘Wait. Didn’t I just see you guys in the Super Bowl? I was at home on my couch then. Now I’m playing against you?’ That’s kind of cool. Facing the defending champs, players I last saw on TV, was exciting. It showed me where I stack up and how I can compete against a starting defense like that.
“The NFL has always been a dream of mine. At times I wasn’t sure whether or not I’d make it but I always knew I wanted to try. I never gave up. I wanted to give it a shot and see how it would turn out. Now that I’m here, it’s thrilling. Putting on that uniform, going out of the tunnel is surreal. This is better than I ever imagined it would be.
“The biggest difference for me between playing here and in Montreal is that here everybody speaks English. That makes things easier. The rules are slightly different so that’s taken some adjustment on my part. It’s a transition I’ve always wanted. The guys, the system, the whole atmosphere in the NFL is special and unique. What a great place to be.
“It was impressive and somewhat intimidating in Seattle because you know going in that those guys are good. I didn’t think about it much once the game started, but during warmups that definitely was on my mind. As a rookie I think the more talented the players are who you will be going against, the better it is. It teaches you quickly how to raise your game to meet tough competition. I’m not at my peak yet, not even on a plateau. My philosophy is that if I work hard and stay healthy the sky’s the limit.
“Obviously the result was not what we were hoping for but the approach we are taking is to learn what we can from the experience, then mentally move on. Personally, I think I did some things sort of well, other things not so well. I know I have a long way to go. I’ve been analyzing the game film seeing where I can improve.
“This is a short week as we have another road trip on Wednesday. Another night game, another stadium that will be new to me. I know that in time this will all become familiar but right now it’s something I have to adjust to as it happens. What I’m going to be watching this week is how the vets recover from our last game then prepare for the next one with such a short turnaround.
“If you were to come into our locker room today you’d notice quite a few empty lockers. The guys are there and then they're not because it’s cut-down week. Just looking around is a wake up call for those of us who remain. So many guys who are gone were deserving and worthy. I've never been one to put myself down but I am somewhat in amazement that I am still here. It makes me realize that it’s hard to make this team. You can be gone at any time if you do not produce. I count myself fortunate and blessed to be here right now.
“The outcome of the Seahawks game was tough. Nobody wants to go into their next game on negative momentum after losing but we all understand that this is the preseason. We’re not scheming against a particular team. We’re just trying to make the Chicago Bears the best that we can during this period of time. That last game is over. It’s out of our mind. What is on our minds is getting ready for Cleveland then start working on Week 1.”
Beth Gorr has been covering the Bears for the last 14 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.