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Bears’ offensive line holds steady ‘no matter what the hell happens’

The unit has hit some snags the last two weeks, but played well nonetheless. It’s a close-knit crew no matter who’s on the field.

Left tackle Charles Leno is one of three Bears to play every snap this season.
AP Photos

It’s just blocking, isn’t it?

That’s what almost everyone thinks about offensive linemen. There’s an expectation that any of them can fill any spot when necessary, but it’s far more complicated than it looks.

Yet the Bears’ O-linemen pulled off that feat the last two weeks.

First, they took a backup who had played two games over the previous two seasons, Cornelius Lucas, and plugged him in for suddenly ill right tackle Bobby Massie in a victory over the Redskins.

Against the Vikings, they went without mainstay Kyle Long at right guard, then lost his replacement when Ted Larsen went down, so they sent in reserve offensive tackle Rashaad Coward, who played defensive tackle until last season.

“People on the outside think it’s easy, but it’s a drastic switch, playing a different position,” Massie said. “To put it in perspective, think about how you’ve been writing with your right hand your whole life, and on the drop of a dime, you’ve gotta automatically start using your left.

“No matter what, you have to use your left hand, and you have to use it just as good as you did your right. . . . It’s not easy, but it’s part of the job. You gotta go out there and do it.”

No other position group is required to be as adaptable as offensive linemen. And their reward for playing the least celebrated position on the field is that no one notices them unless they fail.

It’s a terrible job. And they love it.

There’s something compelling to linemen about banding together when everything else is collapsing. It’s why they often seem to play even better when they lose a starter or there’s some other calamity, such as quarterback Mitch Trubisky going down last week.

“You pick it up,” left tackle Charles Leno Jr. said. “I’ve definitely witnessed that. When you see a fallen soldier go down — a la Mitch, Ted, Long — it’s like, I want to step up and be that guy that makes the play.

“That’s how the offensive line works. It’s like, hey, no matter what the hell happens and whoever’s back there, we’re gonna step it up a notch.”

The first four games appeared to be uneven for the Bears’ O-line — and more than any other part of the team, the word “appeared” is necessary. It’s the most difficult position for an outsider to evaluate, and even pros-turned-TV analysts say they can’t always give an accurate assessment because the assignments vary so much.

So here’s an admittedly inexpert take on the offensive line’s opening month: the Green Bay game was rough, the Denver game was much better, the Washington game was more good than bad and the Minnesota game was sufficient.

“It was definitely arrow up,” coach Matt Nagy said of the O-line’s play in the 16-6 victory against the Vikings.

The Bears averaged a paltry 2.2 yards per carry, and as Leno put it, “You’re not gonna jump up and down about that number.”

But some elements of that performance impressed. The offensive line allowed one sack, the Bears had their best time of possession at 35:27 and they had only one run for negative yardage before the last possession.

“We did what we had to do at certain times within the game,” said Nagy, who is hesitant to declare progress until the Bears start uncorking more explosive plays in the ground game, such as Cordarrelle Patterson’s 46-yarder against the Broncos.

The Bears could get good opportunities Sunday in London. The Raiders are 17th in run defense and tied for 25th in sacks. The line is likely to be whole again for that game, with Long expected to return. But even if he doesn’t, the O-linemen will figure it out.

“It just doesn’t matter,” Leno said of the instability. “That’s the way we approach it: No matter what, we’ve gotta get the job done. We’ll find a way.”