Many were surprised when the Bears made Kyle Long the 20th overall pick in last month's draft. It was reported that Long was considered a prospect at guard who could eventually slide out to a tackle spot. Bears fans and reporters alike cheered this notion, the idea that the Bears picked a guy who could anchor an interior spot now but eventually be the franchise tackle that the team has lacked since John Tait retired back in 2008.
Fans will note that since that time, the team has been better at drafting tackles who end up being guards (Gabe Carimi, Lance Louis) or drafting left tackles who end up better on the right (J'Marcus Webb). Either way, the idea that the Bears might finally be turning the page on the shabbily built lines of recent seasons was welcome relief.
But the new coaching staff of Marc Trestman and Kromer have other ideas. The two believe in building an offensive line from the inside out.
"We feel protection starts from the inside out," said offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer, who came to the Bears in the offseason from the Saints, for whom he was the offensive line coach. "With the Saints we really felt we needed to keep the interior part of the defensive line at the line of scrimmage in protection, so we put a big emphasis on our guard position to do that. We feel that same way here."
This idea is something Kromer did with the New Orleans Saints, making guards Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs household names, in addition to building Carl Nicks from a 5th round pick to one of the highest paid guards in the league.
The reasoning behind this is two-fold: one, in an offense like what Sean Payton uses or Trestman's West Coast scheme, guards help establish the pocket for the quarterback and second, in the run game, it uses a lot of athletic, fast, pulling guards to get outside and downfield to block defenders.
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From the first time Long puts on pads, he will be the Bears' most talented offensive lineman. They could line him up at tackle, but they are putting him at guard in part because that's the position they want their most talented lineman to play.
In the passing scheme being installed by coach Marc Trestman and Kromer, the Bears rather would risk pressure from an outside rush than an inside rush. An argument can be made that interior rushes have become considerably more effective in recent years as coordinators have schemed more inside blitzes. And it is easier to help tackles than guards.
In addition to Long, the Bears' fifth round pick Jordan Mills projects to be either a guard or a tackle as well. It is my hunch that the Bears believe that Kromer will either try to mold him into a starting guard, or perhaps to be the swing tackle and a most valued back up for the future.
By most accounts, Mills has a long way to go with his footwork, something a teacher like Kromer should be able to coach into him, so I suspect he could be a project for a guard position down the road.
The Bears are entering a brave new offensive world and at some point it projects to be an improvement over the deficiency seen in recent seasons. Expect the reboot in the trenches to start from the inside out. If Trestman and Kromer can find their anchor guards, to match their anchor LT Jermon Bushrod, and can get a serviceable RT, that will be more than enough to drop the sack numbers Jay Cutler has suffered.
I also suspect Kromer will be working to find a replacement for Roberto Garza down the road. He was successful in molding an undrafted center who bounced around the league, Brian de la Puente, into a solid starter in New Orleans. Garza's heir could be a guy already on the team or it could be a future draft pick.
The fact is, the Bears should have a solid line for years to come, from the inside, out.