Throughout this offseason an ongoing evaluation drama was playing out on the right side of the Bears offensive line. On Sunday it reached at least a temporary (and only apparent) conclusion.
The Bears waived third-year right tackle Jordan Mills and put a waiver claim in on Tampa Bay Buccaneers right guard Patrick Omameh, setting the course for the possible shifting of two-time Pro Bowl right guard Kyle Long to right tackle.
“Possible” because Omameh was playing primarily at right guard but has worked at tackle, albeit not well enough at either position to convince the Buccaneers that he was a viable part of the protection for rookie quarterback Jameis Winston.
Mills had the Bears right tackle job in his control once he managed to shake off the effects of foot surgery following the 2013 season. Mills started three of the four preseason games at right tackle, including game four vs. Cleveland last Thursday, but failed to make a convincing statement for coaches who have made clear their intentions to run the football in 2015.
Thanks Chicago for the memories and all that you've done for me. #BearDown
— Jordan Mills (@JordanMills_67) September 6, 2015
Best guess is that coach John Fox keeps the Green Bay Packers waiting until just before game time before announcing who his starters are at right guard and tackle. Whether Omameh, who entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2013 with the San Francisco 49ers, or Vladimir Ducasse, who played most of the Cleveland game at right guard, steps in with the No. 1 unit, likely won’t be set until lineups are announced next Sunday when the Bears take the field to face the Packers.
“As [Fox] said, it’s never too late [to make changes].” Long said last week. “It’s like, if you’re working on a 300-piece puzzle and you can’t figure out which pieces to go where, it might be the end of the puzzle before you figure out, ‘Oh, there’s that piece for there.’ So we’re not really worried about that.”
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The feeling within the organization is that Long, entering his third NFL season, has the stuff to be an elite lineman at either guard or tackle.
The move has appeared to be coming during various points of the offseason even as Long remained primarily at guard. NFL-grade tackles are never easy to find and the Bears were conspicuously adding possibilities at guard and not at tackle, which was addressed only with a seventh-round draft pick of Tayo Fabuluje.
At guard, however, additions with NFL experience were coming in. Ducasse, who started games for the New York Jets and Minnesota Vikings, was signed on Mar. 16. Will Montgomery, who played for John Fox and coordinator Adam Gase with the Denver Broncos, was signed Apr. 2, which was followed by the Bears investing their third-round draft pick in center Hroniss Grasu. Both Grasu and Montgomery were described as capable of working at guard despite being undersized for the position.
When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers waived 16-game starter Omameh on Saturday and the Bears followed by claimed him, the Bears’ course was set. Omameh was part of a woeful Bucs offensive line charged with 52 sacks last season, moving Tampa Bay to use two second-round picks on offensive linemen.
Omameh was tried at right tackle but failed to impress and enough to be kept as a swing man for Lovie Smith and the line entrusted with protecting Winston.