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NFL commentary: Will shuffling the deck work?

Bears' offense will go as far as line takes it

Caption
(AP)
Bears rookie guard Kyle Long has been working on the right side so far in training camp at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais,, but his left-handedness lends to more success on the left side.

BOURBONNAIS – As we get to know Bears coach Marc Trestman, we know that as much or more than anything, he wanted to be a head coach in the NFL.

Now that every syllable he utters is examined and analyzed by players, media and fans alike, it is impossible not to wonder if this is what he bargained for.

We think we know Jay Cutler. Certainly no member of the Bears organization has a brighter spotlight on him than the cantankerous quarterback and his expiring contract, as Bears nation wonders whether he finally will join the ranks of the NFL’s elite signal-callers.

But those won’t be the stories of the 2013 season.

If the offensive line doesn’t make a quantum leap out of the quicksand it’s been mired in over the past four seasons, there is little anyone will be able to do to improve the Bears’ fortunes.

To their credit, general manager Phil Emery and Trestman have taken giant steps to shuffle the deck.

Chris Williams, Lance Louis and Gabe Carimi are fading memories. J’Marcus Webb and James Brown have new addresses on the line. Pro Bowler Jermon Bushrod and veteran starters Matt Slauson and Eben Britton have been brought in to compete, and veteran backup Jonathan Scott has resigned.

Kyle Long and Jordan Mills were drafted in the first and fifth rounds, respectively. Only Roberto Garza and his backup, Edwin Williams, remain where they were at the end of last season.

There will be no quiz, because by opening day at least two and possibly three or four of those players will be gone. It’s quite possible Britton, Scott, Long and Mills could be competing at positions other than where they’re lining up right now.

On the line’s early progress, Bushrod reported Sunday after the team’s first practice in pads.

“It takes a little time. I was jittery early and you have to remember to not be too aggressive, slow down and let the game come to you,” he said. “It’s everything we have to get better at, all facets of the game. When you put in a complex offense like we have, it’s going to take time.”

Commenting on Long’s progress, Bushrod said, “He’s a gifted kid, you can see it. But it took me a season or two to figure everything out.”

Unfortunately, that’s time this Bears roster doesn’t have.

From Trestman to Bushrod through Long, Brown and others, the recurring theme has been: It’s going to take time, but they hope to be ready this year.

OK. I’m a patient man, but here are a couple facts and a few more opinions we just can’t ignore. After starting 48 straight games over the past three seasons in New York, the Jets didn’t want Slauson back. Britton was the 39th player selected in the 2009 draft and started 24 games at tackle for the Jaguars and eight at guard. He was far more productive at tackle; the Bears have him at guard, and again, the Jaguars didn’t want him back at either position.

Long has extremely limited football experience, period. He looks to me to be a prototypical left tackle. Because he is left-handed, he probably fits better at left guard, yet he is on the right side, for now. Mills looks like a college tackle who, like Brown, could be better suited at guard as a pro, and if Webb takes hold of the right tackle spot, Scott could compete at guard, too. And Webb is, well, Webb.

We all have heard the one about the more things change, the more they stay the same. I’m not saying that’s the case here, yet. But among Slauson, Britton, Scott, Brown, Webb, Long and Mills, if at least three don’t become something more than backups or rejects, this new age of Bears offense will look an awful lot like the old.

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