BOURBONNAIS —Here’s one more statistical incongruity that illustrates the haplessness of the Bears under Marc Trestman: In 2014, the Bear ranked fifth in the NFL in run blocking, according to Pro Football Focus, yet they were 30th in rushing attempts by running backs.
The Bears under John Fox figure to play to their strengths a little better than that, and their offensive line is more than happy to take on that leadership role.
“As we go, the offense goes. We know that,” two-time Pro Bowl guard Kyle Long said. “We need to be on top of our game every day, because if we’re not, then bad things happen with our offense. It reflects poorly on everybody — quarterback, running back, receivers, coaches, you name it. If we do our job, things are a lot easier for everybody else.”
Even with skill-position players like Jay Cutler, Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, the offensive line arguably was the difference under Trestman. In 2013, the line of left tackle Jermon Bushrod, left guard Matt Slauson, center Roberto Garza, right guard Long and right tackle Jordan Mills started every game — and the Bears ranked eighth in the NFL in total offense. In 2014, the starting five played together in just two games and the offense ranked 21st in the NFL. Every starter missed at least one game, with Slauson out for 11 games with two injuries.
With veteran center Will Montgomery replacing Garza, the Bears’ offensive line is counting on returning to its 2013 form.
“I don’t want to experience what we experienced last year,” Bushrod said. “It wasn’t just losing — it was everything. We all have to be better. We’ve got to get that taste out of our mouth. We have to take care of one another. When we’re out on the field, we have to compete and do everything we’re supposed to do.
“It’s not going to be easy, looking at our schedule. But we all get paid to win. We all get paid to work hard. And we have to find a way to go get it.”
Returning to full health is a good start. Bushrod is back after missing most of the offseason with a disc injury. Slauson is recovered from a torn pectoral muscle that caused him to miss the final eight games of the season. Mills said he’s fully recovered from a foot injury he suffered in the 2013 season finale that hampered him throughout the 2014 season.
The return of Slauson can’t be understated. Though Long is the Bears’ best offensive lineman, Slauson is the kind of steady, veteran presence that offensive lines thrive on.
“I can’t put into words what Matt Slauson does for this offense,” Long said. “He’s a leader in our room, the undoubted leader of the offense. He’s such a tough, tough guy and leads by example every day.”
The acquisition of Montgomery in place of Garza has helped the transition to a new coaching staff. Montgomery was a starter for John Fox, offensive coordinator Adam Gase and line coach Dave Magazu in Denver last year.
“Will absolutely makes things a lot easier on me. I have a lot less explaining to do,” Gase said. “I can say something and he takes it and runs with it.”
It remains to be seen if the line can stay healthy. But for now, they are going in with a lot of momentum.
“We’ve got new life,” Slauson said. “New confidence. We’ve got new blood. Defense, new schemes. I’m really excited about it.”