Bears haven't started with 2 rookies on offensive line in 30 years

Covert was left tackle that day and he advises for Long and Mills to 'play within your game'

Bears rookie tackle Jordan Mills talks about being understandably nervous for his first NFL regular-season game Sunday against the Bengals.

When Kyle Long and Jordan Mills line up at right guard and right tackle, respectively, against the Bengals on Sunday at Soldier Field, it will mark the first time the Bears have started two rookies on the offensive line to begin a season in 30 years.

Jim Covert, the sixth overall pick in the NFL draft that year, started at left tackle on opening day in 1983, and his college teammate from Pitt, ninth-rounder Rob Fada, was the left guard.

"Being nervous before a game, there's always that," Covert told the Tribune this week. "It's your first NFL start, (but) being at home there was a little bit more comfort.

"I was pretty confident because I started every preseason game and they said, 'This job is yours.' I had a great (college) line coach in Joe Moore, and I was very well prepared."

Fada, now an orthopedic surgeon in Columbus, Ohio, played two years with the Bears before finishing up in 1985 with the Chiefs before he headed to medical school. Fada got the starting assignment because veteran Noah Jackson was injured.

"Man, that's a long time ago," said Long, the 20th overall pick this year. "That's a cool trivia question."

Long and Mills each credited the bond they have formed as a benefit to their accelerated NFL progress.

"Since I met (Long) at the Senior Bowl and when we were at the NFL scouting combine, we were in the same group," said Mills, a fifth-round selection. "We went against each other in some drills. And to be drafted to the same place, it helps a lot."

Long agrees.

"If we had not been so close, we probably wouldn't be playing next to each other right now," he said. "It's a symbiotic relationship — where two people work together to make a better something or better environment for everybody. That's what we're trying to emulate.

"I want to get this (first) game over, under my belt," said Long, the son of Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive end Howie Long. "Also as a team, I feel like that first game is like taking that first hit in a boxing match. Once you take that first hit, you can get your feet under you and get going."

Veteran Bears center Roberto Garza expects nothing but the best from Long and Mills.

"Doesn't matter if you're a rookie or a longtime veteran, doing your job exactly how it is supposed to be done is the key to it," Garza said.

Covert, who spends most of his time in Pittsburgh as chief executive officer of the Institute for Transfusion Medicine, said he had not been able to watch the Bears this preseason but had general advice for Long and Mills.

"Just stick to your preparation and all the things you learned in training camp," Covert said. "Don't get overly excited, and try to play within your game.

"When you have a bad play or make a mistake — which is going to happen — just forget about it and go to the next play because that's what it's all about. You're going to take 75 to 85 snaps in a game, so you can't be worried about that one snap. It's a long game."

And, they hope, long careers for both Long and Mills.

"I'm going to be a little nervous (Sunday)," Mills said. "That comes with (this being) the first regular-season game. But once that first series is up, that first hit, it should be fun."

Covert, 53, played from '83 to 1990, when a back injury ended his career prematurely. A member of the College Football Hall of Fame, he was a nominee for the Pro Football Hall this year.

"You may win a battle or two, but you have to win the war to play every snap," he said.

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