Grading the Chicago Bears rookie offensive linemen

Jonathan Daniel

The Chicago Bears did something that they haven't done in over 30 years, they started two rookies on the offensive line. Kyle Long and Jordan Mills received the opening day start on the right side of the o-line, and today I'll break down the film and grade their performance.

In 1975, the Chicago Bears had three rookies start on the offensive line. That team went 4-10. The 2013 Chicago Bears are hoping to have better luck with their rookie o-line duo, and so far they are off to a better start. Both record wise, and in the box score. Right guard Kyle Long and right tackle Jordan Mills played like they belong in the NFL.

The Bears didn't put up eye popping numbers against the Cincinnati bengals, but there was a workman like approach to the game-plan from Chicago head coach Marc Trestman. Even when down 21-10 in the 3rd quarter, he kept plugging along with his offense. A big part of his offense was the trust he had in his offensive line.

I looked at the game in detail Sunday night, in particular I graded the performance of the two rookie offensive linemen. My grading system is a bit different than the grades from Pro Football Focus that we often refer to here on Windy City Gridiron. I grade the way I was taught by my youth coach, which is the same grading system used by my high school coach, and it's the same way my college coach had us grade. So it's the way I grade when I coached, and the way I grade here on WCG.

If you do your job, you get a plus, if not you get a minus. It's simple, but it's what I know.

Not every plus from me has to have a player driving his man 10 yards off the ball. If a player fires out, locks on his defender, and keeps him out of the play, he'll usually get a positive grade from me. If a player shows poor technique, is initially beaten, but recovers to block his man, that's a positive in my book too. Playing in the trenches is a fight, and usually a fight isn't pretty.

PFF grades each play from a -2.0, to a +2.0. They rarely give the two ends of their spectrum out on a play, and a 0 grade is considered average. It means the player simply did their job. Most plays receive the 0 from their graders.

I explain this, not to show that one system is better than the other, but just to make you aware that there are more than one way to do things. I give the plus/minus, PFF goes with a wider spectrum, and others go with the letter grade.

With that being said, both Long and Mills received the same grade from me. I graded them each on 61 total plays, and had them both at a +56. That goes along with a -5 for the mathematical deficient.

I expected to see some egregious mistakes from both rookies, but was surprised at how they both played. Some broad observations on the rookies before I get into some specific plays.

  • Mills is more technically sound than Long.
  • Long's two biggest issues were playing too high, and too far over his feet.
  • Long is able to use his size and strength to cover up technique mistakes.
  • Both rookies use their hands really good. Once they lock on, they stay locked on.
  • Mills showed very nimble feet, and had good balance.
  • Long does play with an edge to his game.
  • Both had sustained effort the majority of the day.

> On the third play of the game, the incomplete pass to Alshon Jeffery that nearly saw Jay Cutler get sacked by Carlos Dunlap, I gave Long a minus, and Mills a plus.

On the play, Cincinnati outside linebacker James Harrison was lined up outside of Bears right tackle Mills. Mills correctly ignored Dunlap who was over him, and kicked out to block the blitzing Harrison. With Mills blocking to his right, Long should have picked up the defensive end Dunlap. Instead Long looked to the A gap first, where center Roberto Garza was blocking the Bengal DT. Dunlap was unblocked, and he got a good shot on Jay Cutler as he hurriedly released the ball.

Long may have missed a call, or he may have forgot the call. Either way Dunlap was his responsibility.

> On the 1st play of the Bears second drive, Mills pulled down the line to his left and led Matt Forte for a nine yard gain. He showed good short burst quickness to get to the hole from his RT position.

> On the Martellus Bennett TD catch, Long was a little high out of his stance and was pushed backward, but he used his strength and good hand placement to ride the Cincy DT past the pocket.

> On the fourth quarter 4th and inches play, Marc Trestman and offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer trusted the two rookies with the most crucial play of the game. Kyle Long pulled around the right side, and while he didn't deliver a knock out block, he did run interference for Forte to pick up the first down.

Mills blocked down to cover for the pulling Long, and he drove his man all the way to the pile and pancaked him over it.

> When the Bengals stopped the Bears on the 3rd and 6 with about a minute remaining, Cincinnati linebacker Rey Maualuga was flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for throwing Mills to the ground. First off, well done by the rookie in not retaliating, and second off it was Mills' tenacious blocking til the whistle that enraged Maualuga.

Some final observations from the game; Even though I gave both the same grade, Mills had a better game. He was more technically sound, and he played with more confidence and decisiveness. Long covered some of his errors with his athleticism and strength. Which is a good thing. He'll get better through experience.

There were a few plays from each that I could have gone the negative route with. On some occasions when they went to the second level to block, they didn't always lock onto a man. But they were on their blocking track, and the defender wasn't able to get in on the play. Often times when blocking on the backside of a play, the linebacker flow is moving too fast for an offensive lineman to get a solid hit on.

There were also a handful of times when they locked onto a defensive lineman, using good technique, but just didn't drive them very far off the ball. Their guy didn't make the tackle, and it was more of a stalemate on the line of scrimmage. On some of those instances the running back could have either bounced or bent the play back to avoid the congestion.

Overall it was a heck of a start for these two, and the bottom line is, I'm very excited to see this duo grow together.

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