Bears need more Longs

1st-rounder should have more prominent role than right guard — and right away

The Tribune's Brad Biggs and Fred Mitchell on the Bears' final training camp open practice in Bourbonnais.

There is nothing wrong with the Bears offensive line. Check that. There is nothing wrong with the offensive line that cloning wouldn't fix.

Absurd as it sounds after a single exhibition snapshot, Bears rookie offensive lineman Kyle Long needs to be on the field now and he's such a dizzying talent you can't help but wonder where he should be playing. He will be lined up as a starter at right guard Thursday night against the Chargers at Soldier Field.

Is it wrong to be disappointed by that? With apologies to offensive linemen, Long's debut at right guard seems like a waste of his talent. It smacks of Brian Urlacher starting his career as a strong-side linebacker when there was clearly a more appropriate spot.

Long looks like a future left tackle, the glamour position on an offensive line. Problem is, the Bears made a free-agent splash, signing Jermon Bushrod to a five-year, $34 million deal that included $17 million in guaranteed money at that spot. How about right tackle? If you are forced to start a rookie at that spot — fifth-rounder Jordan Mills will get the call for Thursday's exhibition — why not make it Long?

"That is a good question," offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said when asked about which rookie should be at right tackle. "We are moving (Long) around. We are trying to get a guy to learn football and how the schemes work and how things work and see if he can be a guard inside."

The suspicion is that Long will open his career as a right guard because it's the easiest spot on the offensive line. In the hierarchy of linemen, the left tackle is the best athlete, the left guard the most athletic interior player, the right tackle the engulfing mauler who can trigger the run game and the center a brainy, squatty body type who can make line calls.

In the era of free agency and a salary cap, teams have been forced to save money creatively at assorted positions and it is a fact in six straight Super Bowls there has been a starting right guard who originally was an undrafted free agent — the 49ers' Alex Boone, the Patriots' Brian Waters, the Steelers' Ramon Foster, the Colts' Kyle DeVan, the Steelers' Darnell Stapleton and the Patriots' Stephen Neal.

Philosophically, Kromer doesn't buy the idea that right guards don't matter. He came from the Saints, one of the few teams that have invested significantly more money in guards than tackles. Guards anchor the pass protection of Saints quarterback Drew Brees and Kromer wants to build the Bears protection from inside out too.

"The most success a quarterback can have throwing is when he can step up, so if you have beasts at guard — powerful guys with some athleticism and some hand strength that can keep pass rushers on the line of scrimmage in front of the quarterback, you will have a lot more success," Kromer said.

That means if there are leaks in the interior or the pocket is pushed into collapse, there isn't going to be success.

But you have to wonder, if it all starts with building that wall in the middle of the line, then why did the Bears pay big money for Bushrod?

"We felt better about him than the candidates on the roster," Kromer said.

It's a diplomatic answer pertaining to the status of J'Marcus Webb, a strangely unsympathetic figure projected as the starting right tackle after a failed stint on the left side. Webb has raised the ire of fans, his quarterback and now his new coaches with inadequate play and perceived nonchalance.

Expectations for players are created by their draft status and the money they receive. Webb, a seventh-round pick (No. 218 overall in 2010), never has made much money. His sin has been playing time with his 44 starts now viewed as wasted development time that could have gone to someone, anyone else.

Regardless, Webb's insufficiency coupled with Jonathan Scott's sore knee has opened up a chance for Mills and maybe Long at right tackle. You suspect were it not for a league rule preventing drafted players from taking part in offseason workouts until final exams are over, Long would be playing a more significant role and perhaps a more significant position.

The Bears insist they will start their best five linemen. If only they could get their hands on a cloning machine.

Special contributor Mike Mulligan co-hosts "The Mully and Hanley Show" weekdays from 5 to 9 a.m. on WSCR-AM 670.

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