Rough past shapes Rachal's toughness on field

Guard has provided missing element to Bears O-line while providing safety, security to family

With a smile he rarely shows on the field, Bears left guard Chilo Rachal revealed his first name comes from French Creole origins.

"It's CHI-low,'' Rachal said, accenting a hard consonant blend.

Naturally. Nothing about the veteran whom the Bears made a starter for his toughness three victories ago strikes anybody as soft. Nobody epitomizes the edge Lovie Smith sought from his offensive line more than the native of Compton, Calif., who has spent a lifetime sharpening it.

Monday night against a bunch of Lions defensive linemen such as Ndamukong Suh who roar too much, Rachal welcomes the opportunity to counter their intensity by answering in the best way he knows, with a quiet but nasty approach.

"I don't like to talk, I just play,'' said Rachal, who started 38 games over the last four seasons for the 49ers. "Buckle up, hitch my boots, get down and dirty and go to work.''

Few NFL players have felt they needed their job more than Rachal did before the 49ers selected him in the second round in 2008 with the 39th pick — five spots before the Bears chose Matt Forte. Rachal left USC after his junior season because of family reasons, not football.

His mother, Veronica Pickett, had a tumor the size of an infant in her stomach that required surgery but wasn't life-threatening. His father, Charles, had two hernia surgeries and increasingly bad knees. Neither parent had insurance that Rachal's NFL paycheck easily could afford.

"Things happen in life, and you've got to run with it,'' said Rachal, 26.

So the boy who grew up in a family struck twice by tragedy vowed to make life easier for his parents as a man. Rachal's half-brother was shot to death at 16, a year before Rachal was born. When Rachal was 13, he lost a second sibling to the kind of gun violence from which he wanted to protect Mom and Dad.

Rachal helps with offseason community efforts to improve his old neighborhood but fulfilled a childhood goal by moving his parents to a safer area. He calls them regularly and enthusiastically reported they are happy and healthy after escaping a past the good son refused to let define their futures — experiences that influence his every day on the football field.

"I always appreciate things, but I have a reason why I play,'' Rachal said. "Football got me and my family out of where we were living. I'll never forget where I come from and how I got here. So I'll always have a chip on my shoulder because of how bad things used to be.''

When the Bears cut former first-round pick Chris Williams, it unofficially announced they were done tolerating soft play from offensive linemen. After quarterback Jay Cutler emasculated left tackle J'Marcus Webb on the sideline in the loss to the Packers, resolve became an even bigger priority on the O-line.

In that way the Bears occasionally still struggle without Olin Kreutz, the perennial Pro Bowl center missed as much for his tenacity as his technique. Kreutz used smarts and savvy to win individual battles but also relied on intimidation. Through two games, the Bears probably didn't scare anybody other than Cutler.

Enter Rachal, a 6-foot-5, 323-pound mauler who, with Lance Louis and his mean streak on the right side, gives the Bears two guards who never will answer to Mr. Congeniality.

When Smith called Rachal "an aggressive guy that plays hard from start to finish,'' it was coachspeak for a tough son of a gun nobody wants to mess with on game days. Metrics make it hard to measure the individual effectiveness of guards. But coaches and teammates know.

"He brings a lot of energy,'' center Roberto Garza said. "He works hard every single day and is always going after people. Chilo stepped in and is a big part of why we're winning games.''

The Bears will continue to win enough games to lead the NFC North if offensive coordinator Mike Tice follows through with his off-week commitment to re-emphasize the run. Kudos to Tice for openly stating he strayed from power football against the Packers, candor as refreshing as a 50-50 run-pass ratio would be against the Lions. Suh and the Lions arrive full of bluster and bravado, and nothing shuts up a loud defense quicker than smacking it in the mouth.

Let the Lions talk. Rachal chose the Bears during free agency largely because of the way they quietly take care of business under Smith — the monsters of the mundane.

"I knew this was where I wanted to be,'' Rachal said.

How fitting this was where an offensive line in search of an identity needed him.

dhaugh@tribune.com

Twitter @DavidHaugh

CHICAGO

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