After looking all summer for an answer at right tackle, the Bears might have a solution only inches away.
Coach John Fox still is considering moving Pro Bowl right guard Kyle Long to fill the position. That much was apparent Monday after weeks of watching Jordan Mills and Charles Leno Jr. fail to claim the starting job.
“They have to practice before they play,” Fox said after practice at Halas Hall. “And so he’s had plenty of practice at both guard and tackle.”
The Long-to-tackle debate first raged during the spring, when Long filled in for the injured Mills and Jermon Bushrod. It has flared up again and now seems more likely than ever.
But the timing couldn’t be worse. The Bears are less than two weeks away from their season opener against the Packers.
The Bears begged someone to win the starting right tackle job in training camp to avoid this scenario. Now the team must consider the move, though it wouldn’t put Long in the ideal position to succeed.
If Long plays right tackle against the Packers, it would be his first professional game there, unless he played in the preseason finale Thursday against the Browns at Soldier Field, an unlikely possibility.
“I don’t want to get too much into our depth chart and whatnot,” Fox said. “But we’ve got options. We’ve got guys we’re looking at. To say it’s perfectly settled at this point, probably not the case, but I think that’s the case at a lot of positions.”
Nowhere has it been more glaring than at right tackle.
In a bit of foreshadowing, Mills was whistled for a false start on the first snap of the preseason opener. He lost his starting job to Leno after the game. Leno has allowed one sack, and the two have committed three penalties apiece.
Of the 136 tackles to play at least one-fourth of their team’s preseason snaps, Mills is ranked 53rd by Pro Football Focus. However, the same website has given Mills a positive grade in only five of his 29 career starts.
Leno, who has played almost double Mills’ snaps, is tied for No. 107. Even more concerning: Left tackle Bushrod, whose back has bothered him all preseason, is tied for No. 116.
Bushrod’s back only complicates matters for the Bears, who must be blanching at the possibility of playing Leno and Mills at the same time.
If the Bears move Long, it will be to get their best five players on the field. But even making that assertion is a moving target. They would not simply be saying that whoever plays guard — likely free-agent signee Vladimir Ducasse, who started six games for the Vikings last year — is better than Leno or Mills. They would be asserting that he’s so much better that it compensates for Long learning tackle on the fly.
A former pitching prospect at Florida State, Long might be the Bears’ best athlete. But replicating back-to-back Pro Bowl performances at a new position — on less than two weeks’ notice — would be a tough task.
That the Bears are even considering the move shows how enamored they are with their other options.
“We’ll end up with whoever ends up proving they’re worthy,” Fox said. “I don’t think that you ever really get comfortable because it’s really fluid.”
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