Bears OL puzzle clearing with release of Mills, likely change for Long


Bears OL puzzle clearing with release of Mills, likely change for Long

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.

[MORE: Notable names remain for now on Bears roster]

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.

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.”

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

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.

Chicago Bears Training Camp: Veteran and rookie report dates

USA Today

Chicago Bears Training Camp: Veteran and rookie report dates

Chicago Bears training camp is right around the corner with the first practice (non-padded) scheduled for July 21. 

Bears veterans and rookies will report a few days ahead of that first session to acclimate themselves to their new (for some) surroundings. Rookies report on July 16, with veterans coming three days later on July 19.

All eyes will be on QB Mitch Trubisky and the potentially high-flying offense under coach Matt Nagy. Training camp will take on extra importance because of the plethora of new faces on the roster and coaching staff as well as the installation of a completely new offensive scheme. It's critical that Trubisky builds chemistry with wide receivers Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Anthony Miller and Kevin White, all of whom he's never thrown a regular-season pass to. Add Trey Burton to that mix and a lot of miscues should be expected in the preseason.

The rookie class is led by linebacker Roquan Smith, who remains unsigned. With less than 30 days until rookies are required to report, a greater sense of urgency -- even if it's not quite a panic -- is certainly creeping in. Assuming he's signed in time, Smith should earn a starting role early in training camp and ascend to one of the defense's top all-around players. 

The Bears have higher-than-usual expectations heading into the 2018 season making fans eager for summer practices to get underway.

Leonard Floyd picked as potential Pro Bowler in 2018

Leonard Floyd picked as potential Pro Bowler in 2018

The Chicago Bears need a big season from outside linebacker Leonard Floyd. He's the team's best pass-rush option and the only legitimate threat to post double-digit sacks this year.

Floyd joined the Bears as a first-round pick (No. 9 overall) in 2016 and has flashed freakish talent at times. The problem has been his health; he's appeared in only 22 games through his first two seasons. 

Floyd's rookie year -- especially Weeks 5 through 9 -- showed a glimpse of the kind of disruptive force he's capable of becoming. He registered seven sacks and looked poised to breakout in 2017. Unfortunately, injuries limited him to only 10 games and four sacks.

Despite his disappointing sophomore season,'s Gil Brandt has high hopes for Floyd in 2018. The long-time NFL personnel executive named Floyd as the Bear with the best chance to earn a first-time trip to the Pro Bowl.

CHICAGO BEARS: Leonard Floyd, OLB, third NFL season. Floyd had seven sacks as a rookie in 2016, but missed six games last season due to a knee injury. He's a talented guy who can drop into coverage or rush with his hand on the ground and should play much better this season. He also has become much stronger since coming into the league.

The Bears will be in a heap of trouble if Floyd doesn't emerge as a Pro Bowl caliber player. There aren't many pass-rushing options on the roster outside of Floyd aside from Aaron Lynch and rookie Kylie Fitts. Neither edge defender has a resume strong enough to rely on as insurance.

It's a critical year for Floyd's future in Chicago, too. General manager Ryan Pace will decide whether to pick up Floyd's fifth-year option in his rookie contract next offseason. If he plays well, it's a no-brainer. If not, Pace could be looking at two straight first-round picks (see: Kevin White) that he's declined the extra year.

We're a long way from that decision. Until then, the Bears' season may sink or swim based on its pass rush. It begins -- and ends -- with Floyd.