With Kyle Long and Jermon Bushrod, the Chicago Bears have two Pro Bowlers along the offensive line. Yet Matt Slauson is the team’s best offensive lineman and he’s done for the season due to a torn pectoral.
His injury, combined with recent hernia surgery for Eben Britton and poor play from Jordan Mills, has forced Chicago’s coaching staff to contingencies. This week, Mills and Michael Ola have rotated between right tackle and left guard, with backup center Brian de la Puente also in the mix at guard.
The past two practices, offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer has experimented with multiple starting front fives.
“We feel like Jordan’s got the talent to play guard or tackle, so what we’re doing now is we used three different combinations on the offensive line today in practice and we did the same thing yesterday,” Kromer said today. “With the way that the season has unfolded, we’ve had multiple injuries and we want to make sure that we’re prepared at this point with Slauson out to be able to rotate where we see fit, where the best combination is, so that’s what we’re doing at this point.”
More than nine weeks into the season, having to use practice time to determine the starting offensive line heading into a critical contest against the Green Bay Packers is far from ideal. Yet injuries have forced the team’s hand, as every starter but Long has missed at least one game this season.
As a result, it appears the Bears are flying by the seat of their pants.
“It really comes down to, do they make it through another game and then are you prepared if something happens at that point?” said Kromer. “The most important thing is we’re to the point now where we have to make sure we have alternatives, also with Eben Britton being out as well, it’s changed in multiple ways. So your backup plans aren’t the same backup plans that we’ve had throughout the year. So we’re just trying to make sure that everything fits accordingly if something else happens.”Mills has struggled at right tackle this year. In eight games he’s given up 18 QB hurries and five sacks, the fifth most sacks allowed of any offensive tackle in the league, per Pro Football Focus (PFF). At the same time, Ola has shown decent quickness and agility working at both tackle and guard this season. Getting them comfortable at multiple spots gives Kromer options in case of future injury, or if Mills continues at his sub-par pace. “The most important thing is we set ourselves up to win the game. If that requires someone moving positions, it’s important that they understand that what’s best for the team is best for him,” said Kromer. “Usually with an offensive line they feel that anyway. You have some apprehension when you have to move to a different position when you’re comfortable with one. But at the same time as an offensive line guys usually will move wherever you want because that’s the kind of guys they usually are.” Working de la Puente at guard is nothing new, as he rotated between center and guard throughout training camp. He’s never played a snap at guard in the NFL, and no one is going to mistake him for a mauler, but he’s a quality second or third option at multiple positions.
Trestman said the team will decide tomorrow the starting lineup for Sunday.
"I think I’ll give you a direct answer tomorrow. Aaron and I didn’t get a chance to talk. We haven’t had a chance to look at the video but I would like to be more convicted tomorrow in terms of where we’re going to go. We did move them around today. Brian played some guard. Ola played some tackle. Ola went inside and played guard of course. And Jordan was at the tackle position. We moved him a little bit as well. We really have tried to move some people around, based on the situation we’re in, losing Eben No. 1 and working Charles Leno into the group as well. We want to come to some conclusions by the end of the day and establish the lineup for tomorrow."Most likely, the Bears will trot out Mills at right tackle and Ola at left guard this Sunday against the Packers. Yet it appears Mills could be on a short leash. If Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers are able to get pressure off the right edge, don’t be surprised if Mills gets the hook and Kromer goes to Plan B.
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fourth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter.