On the NFL
6:40 PM CDT, May 9, 2013
If you want to know why the Bears used their first-round draft pick on a guard for the first time in 52 years, cast your gaze in the vicinity of Bourbon Street.
In New Orleans, where the Saints play a level of offense only dreamed about in Chicago, guards are more important than tackles. And the Bears are adopting the Saints' philosophy.
Conventional wisdom no longer applies on the Bears offensive line, which is why Kyle Long will be the focal point when rookie camp opens Friday at Halas Hall.
"We feel protection starts from the inside out," said offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer, who came to the Bears in the offseason from the Saints, for whom he was the offensive line coach. "With the Saints we really felt we needed to keep the interior part of the defensive line at the line of scrimmage in protection, so we put a big emphasis on our guard position to do that. We feel that same way here."
From the first time Long puts on pads, he will be the Bears' most talented offensive lineman. They could line him up at tackle, but they are putting him at guard in part because that's the position they want their most talented lineman to play.
In the passing scheme being installed by coach Marc Trestman and Kromer, the Bears rather would risk pressure from an outside rush than an inside rush. An argument can be made that interior rushes have become considerably more effective in recent years as coordinators have schemed more inside blitzes. And it is easier to help tackles than guards.
"If they can get in the face of your quarterback, it's a problem in the throwing game," Kromer said. "So we try to keep them on the line of scrimmage (with interior blockers) and control our edges and help our tackles with formation, tight end presence and back presence."
Interior protection probably was more important for the Saints than it will be for the Bears because of the quarterbacks involved. Drew Brees, at 6 feet, is a good 3 inches shorter than Jay Cutler. Shorter quarterbacks have more vision issues when defenders are pushing the pocket.
"But as you grow with it and continue to study the protection system, you realize it helps any quarterback," Kromer said.
Some of Cutler's inconsistencies in 2012 probably were rooted in his feeling unsettled because of interior pressure or the consistent threat of it.
An emphasis on guards was apparent when Trestman and Kromer were assistants with the Raiders a decade ago. Among the Oakland guards during that time were eight-time Pro Bowl selection Steve Wisniewski, first-round draft pick Mo Collins and 330-pound Frank Middleton.
In New Orleans, the guards Kromer coached included four-time Pro Bowler Jahri Evans, two-time Pro Bowler Carl Nicks and Ben Grubbs, once a first-round pick of the Ravens.
An athletic guard who can move his feet is all well and good, but what Trestman and Kromer really are looking for is powerhouses who could win an airplane pull. It's about being stronger than the player across the line and the ability to set the pocket.
In all the talk about Long's athleticism, the power he is capable of generating has been overlooked. When general manager Phil Emery introduced Long at a Halas Hall news conference, he said, "Besides the athletic ability … beyond the (football) smarts … is his toughness and his physicalness in his style of play."
The other guards also should give the Bears more physical play than they had in the interior last year.
Kromer said the tape he has studied shows free-agent addition Matt Slausen can set the pocket. That's why he's a Bear.
"He's very strong, and he has a powerful anchor point," one NFL talent evaluator said.
Even Gabe Carimi, should he get on the field, is capable of giving the Bears muscle inside. Despite not having his leg strength after offseason surgery, he arguably was the most physical guard last year in three starts there.
In the 93-year history of the Bears, guards mostly have been afterthoughts. But as the presence of Long will remind us this weekend, that is not the case anymore.
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