The Bears' decision to start Pro Bowl right tackle Kyle Long at right guard Sunday meant more change for an offensive line that had already seen a massive overhaul from last year.
Along with Matt Slauson returning from a pectoral injury at left guard and free agent pickup Will Montgomery starting at center, the line would also see offseason signee Vladimir Ducasse starting at left guard. Only left tackle Jermon Bushrod started in the same spot Sunday as he did in 2014.
|Kyle Long blocks Julius Peppers in the season opener against the Packers.|
In the regular-season opener versus Green Bay, the new-look line felt it performed well, despite the team's 31-23 loss. Chicago ran the ball for 189 yards – gaining more than 5.0 yards per carry – and more often than not, the line gave quarterback Jay Cutler a clean pocket from which to throw from.
Given that the five-man unit had only one week to prepare with their new alignment, the performance was something to build on for the Bears' front five.
"Individually and collectively, I thought we played our butts off," Long said. "At the same time, against a really good football team like the Green Bay Packers you have to go out and leave nothing on the table."
Long felt it took some time to become accustomed to the new position. At guard, he was used to playing between two teammates, working against interior defensive linemen. Playing tackle, he occasionally was on an island, facing a former Bears teammate of his in Julius Peppers.
"You get so comfortable at one position, and then you get moved," Long said. "But that's part of the deal in football, especially on the offensive line. I have a great group of guys around me. Just have to continue to push forward and compete. Not everything is going to be rainbows. You have to continue to push and compete."
Overall, the line play helped the Bears offense to a solid showing versus the Packers. Running back Kyle Long ran for 141 yards and Cutler had 225 yards through the air.
Chicago started the game in a jumbo formation, with three tight ends joining the five offensive linemen. That physical approach was evident throughout much of the game, as the Bears' blockers up front wore down the Green Bay defense at times. A variety of tosses and sweeps, along with up-the-middle handoffs, were the bread and butter to the Bears attack.
Yet after the game, the linemen were more concerned with the times they were not able to show their force up front. That included a fourth quarter drive that ended with a turnover on downs after Chicago was unable to push the ball across the goal line, despite four chances from inside the Green Bay 6-yard line.
"It really doesn't matter what personnel we are in," Slauson said. "We just want to have a physical mindset and I thought we did well with that. But we need to execute better. We can't shoot ourselves in the foot penalty-wise and in the red area. Against a team like that, we have to be scoring touchdowns, we can't be kicking field goals."
Bushrod echoed his linemate's sentiments. The left tackle said he starts smiling when the team crosses the 50, as he knows the Bears have the ability to put points on the board. To be unable to do that in a key moment of the game is frustrating, but something the team can learn from.
"We have to find a way to be better, and we will," Bushrod said. "At the end of the day, whatever (the coach's) call, we have to haul. If they call passes, they call screens, that's what we have to do. We have to execute. In practice we execute these things, we have to find a way to execute out here.
"It doesn't matter if we pass or run or walk in there backwards. We have to get into the end zone."
The line wasn't flawless in their season debut. But with so much change up front, the group is optimistic they will improve as the season progresses.
"I think offensive line is one of the strengths of this team with (Will Montgomery) in there and the left side being pretty solid," Cutler said. "Those guys on the right side are only going to get better and better."