Will Bears open the season with two rookie linemen? It’s been done before
BY MARK POTASH Staff Reporter August 18, 2013 6:19PM
CHICAGO, IL - AUGUST 15: Jordan Mills #67 and Kyle Long #75 of the Chicago Bears line up for a play against the San Diego Chargers at Soldier Field on August 15, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bears defeated the Chargers 33-28. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
1-2 ROOKIE PUNCH
The Bears could be trying to pull off a rare NFL feat by starting two first-year rookies on the same side of the offensive line with right guard Kyle Long and right tackle Jordan Mills. It doesn’t happen often, but it’s not impossible. Here are teams that have tried it:
Team Players (draft status) Games played
1990 Dolphins LT Richmond Webb (1-19) Games 1-16
LG Keith Sims (2-39) Games 1-4, 8-16
Record: 12-4, lost divisional playoff game at Buffalo
1995 Panthers LT Blake Brockermeyer (1-29) Games 1-16
LG Andrew Peterson (5-171)/Frank Garcia (4-132) Games 1-16
2005 Patriots LT Nick Kaczur (3-100) Games 4-12, 15-16
LG Logan Mankins (1-32) Games 1-16
Record: 10-6, won wild-card game, lost divisional playoff game at Denver
2006 Buccaneers RT Jeremy Trueblood (2-59) Games 4-16
RG Davin Joseph (1-23) Games 5-16
2007 Ravens RT Marshal Yanda (3-89) Games 2-7, 11-16
RG Ben Grubbs (1-29) Games 5-16
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Updated: September 20, 2013 6:27AM
Starting two rookies on the same side of an offensive line is so fraught with risk, even bad NFL teams rarely do it — and hardly ever by design.
Yet, after an impressive performance by guard Kyle Long and tackle Jordan Mills against the San Diego Chargers last week, the Bears are on target to start both on the right side in the season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 8.
Is that even possible? Can a team contend for the playoffs with an all-rookie tackle/guard combination? Long looks like the real thing, but he still started just four games at Oregon last season. Mills is a fifth-round draft pick from Louisiana Tech.
It doesn’t happen often. The last team to play first-year rookies on the same side from Day 1 was an expansion team, the 1995 Carolina Panthers, with first-round pick Blake Brockermeyer at left tackle and mid-round draft picks Andrew Peterson and Frank Garcia at left guard.
The last playoff contender to do it was the 1990 Miami Dolphins, with first-round pick Richmond Webb at left tackle next to second-round pick Keith Sims at guard. But even then, the risk was minimized. Webb was the ninth overall pick in the draft. Sims was 39th. And Dan Marino’s quick release made both of them better pass blockers. Marino was sacked only 15 times that season as the Dolphins went 12-4 and lost their playoff opener.
If Long and Mills end up starting together, the Bears will be using a similar tack: relying on the rookies’ stronger run-blocking ability and hoping Jay Cutler can get rid of the ball quickly with three-step drops in coach Marc Trestman’s offense.
Trestman and offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer have not committed to starting Long and Mills in the opener. But neither is fazed by the possibility. In Trestman’s first season in Montreal in 2008, he turned to two inexperienced tackles as his starters in place of proven veterans and the offense flourished. The Alouettes’ offensive line, which had allowed a league-high 68 sacks the previous year, allowed a league-low 22 in 2008.
When Kromer was an assistant line coach in Tampa Bay in 2006, the Buccaneers played the final 12 games with two rookies on the right side — guard Davin Joseph and tackle Jeremy Trueblood — after tackle Kenyatta Walker suffered a season-ending knee injury. The Bucs, 11-5 the previous season, went 3-9 with the rookies and finished 4-12. They were ranked 31st in the NFL in total offense. But they had other problems — primarily, rookie Bruce Gradkowski and Tim Rattay at quarterback (though with Trueblood and Joseph starting, the Bucs forced the Super Bowl-bound Bears to overtime before losing 34-31 at Soldier Field).
The Bears are in better shape than that with Cutler, running back Matt Forte, wide receiver Brandon Marshall and veterans at the other offensive line positions.
Teams have made the playoffs with two rookie starters on the line — the 2004 Chargers with center Nick Hardwick and right tackle Shane Olivea and the 2006 New York Jets with left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson and center Nick Mangold.
Assuming their showings against the Chargers weren’t skewed by a substandard opponent, Long and Mills at least appear ready for the challenge — providing they get better with experience and not worse. You never know.
‘‘As rookies, you need as many reps as you can get,’’ Long said. ‘‘I know it’s beneficial to me and I’m sure Jordan will [say] the same thing. You get as many snaps as you can to be put in as many different scenarios as you can, so you can be prepared when the season comes around.’’