Saturday, August 24, 2013
Long, Mills and Frey impress vs. Raiders
By Michael C. Wright
OAKLAND, Calif. -- In the aftermath of Chicago’s 34-26 win Friday over the Oakland Raiders, surely some players long for one last shot to prove their worth, while others may have earned starting jobs that will likely keep them on the sideline for the preseason finale Aug. 29 against the Cleveland Browns.
“That’s a tough question to answer right now,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “We’ve got some young players playing very well. We know we’ve got roster issues on all three sides of the ball. We’ll go to work on that as we get back to Chicago when we spend time tomorrow night in our personnel meetings.”
Here’s a look at three players who likely earned starting jobs by virtue of their performance against the Raiders, and three more whose jobs or roster spots may now be on the line:
The Bears' first-round draft pick, Kyle Long has impressed during the preseason and is poised to earn a starting job.
JOBS EARNED RG Kyle Long. The club’s first-round pick, Long put together another quality start against the Raiders and, along with fellow rookie Jordan Mills, played a few more repetitions than the rest of the first-team offensive line. As expected of a rookie, Long appeared to miss a couple of assignments on plays where he was supposed to block second-level defenders. But his explosiveness, athleticism and tenacity at the point of attack are undeniable, as is the fact he continues to improve the more he plays.
Because the team made Long the No. 20 overall pick in the draft, his ascension to a starter’s role was inevitable. It’s always that way when first-round money is thrown into the equation. It was also aided by a regressing James Brown, who instead of rising to the challenge posed by Long, seemed to fall behind even more in the competition. Perhaps Brown felt the battle had already been virtually decided after his start on Aug. 9 in the preseason opener at Carolina. After that game, the coaching staff said it wanted to take a look at Long, who has started the past two contests.
RT Jordan Mills. Clearly quarterback Jay Cutler feels comfortable with Mills and Long as his protection on the right side of the line. Like Long, Mills made a couple of minor mistakes over his past two starts, including a false start Friday night in the second quarter. But Mills has kept Cutler clean in pass protection, while proving to be a dominating factor in the running game, which has been encouraging. After all, the Bears selected Mills with a fifth-round pick and it was expected he’d face a steep learning curve because of the differences in the pro game from the pass-happy attack he blocked for in college.
“They played well tonight,” Cutler said of the rookies on the right side of the line. “They get better and better each week. The thing about them is they want to do it. They’re excited about it. It matters to them, and they’re getting better. So I don’t see why [Mills and Long wouldn’t be ready to start in Week 1]."
CB Isaiah Frey.Kelvin Hayden’s season-ending hamstring injury gave Frey a chance to become the starting nickel corner. Still, the second-year veteran needed to earn the spot, which he’s done with consistent performances in practices that have transferred over to games. This may sound like an exaggeration, but really it isn’t. During training camp workouts at Olivet Nazarene University, you’d be hard pressed to find one day in which Frey didn’t make a play -- whether it was an interception or a pass breakup -- that drew attention to him. He played that well. Then, once it was time to play in the preseason, Frey simply duplicated what he’d been doing all along on the practice field.
Against the Raiders, Frey picked off a Matt Flynn pass intended for Jacoby Ford in the second quarter, in addition to contributing a tackle on special teams and one on defense. During the offseason, there was definitely a buzz within the organization about Frey. Now we know why.
JOBS ON THE LINE TE Fendi Onobun. What’s transpired in games for Onobun really isn’t any different from what’s taken place at practices. While Onobun appears to be an adequate blocker, his inconsistency as a receiver could lead to his departure. Make no mistake about it: The organization wants Onobun to win a job. The team has done everything short of actually giving it to him. There have been a couple of instances on the field after practices where members of the coaching staff have had to stay after with Onobun to give him a motivational talk, stressing the coaches still believe in him.
But for whatever reason, things haven’t worked out for Onobun, who dropped two passes Friday night, including one from Cutler that should have gone for a touchdown.
Because of his athleticism and background as a college basketball player, Onobun provides an intriguing option the Bears don’t appear to be willing to give up on just yet. When Chicago opened Friday night’s game with a three-tight end set, the personnel grouping featured Martellus Bennett, Steve Maneri and Onobun.
“I think what happens when you’re young and you want to do so well, sometimes you psych yourself out,” Bennett said of Onobun. “It’s a psychological thing. He’s very, very talented. Everyone wants him to do well. He wants to do well. I think he wants it so bad that sometimes he’s just rushing instead of taking his time. I just tell him to catch your breath, calm down, first things first. He’s gonna make those plays when his time comes.”
OT J'Marcus Webb. Webb has started every game the past two seasons, and came into the offseason as the No. 1 right tackle on the roster. Then, two weeks ago, after an uneven performance in the preseason opener at Carolina (a game in which he allowed a sack of Cutler), the Bears opted to go with the rookies at right guard and right tackle.
Webb seemed to regress from there. Playing with the backups against the Raiders, inconsistency reared its head again for Webb, with the veteran being flagged for holding on the team’s third offensive play of the third quarter. In the fourth quarter, officials flagged Webb (remember, he has been one of the most penalized linemen in the league over his tenure) for a false start.
With veteran Jonathan Scott expected to return in the next week from a knee procedure, and another veteran in Eben Britton, Webb not only lost his starting job, but could be on shaky ground in a bid to win a job as the swing tackle. It’s not that Webb lacks the talent to play for the Bears. He possesses plenty. The staff and his teammates just haven’t found a way to coax from Webb the mental sharpness, consistency and attitude needed to excel as a starter in the NFL.
RB Armando Allen. Allen never set foot on the field for Friday’s game, but his inactivity has allowed undrafted rookie Michael Ford to showcase his talents for a legit shot at Allen’s spot. Allen suffered a hamstring injury in early August that has forced him out of the club’s past two preseason games. Viewed at one time as a near lock to make the roster, Allen falls right in line with the old coach’s adage that “you can’t make the club in the tub.”
Ford averaged just 1.9 yards per attempt filling in for Allen against the Chargers, but busted a kickoff return 100 yards in the third quarter of that game to generate some excitement among the coaching staff. Against the Raiders on Friday, Ford rushed for 58 yards on nine attempts, and scored on a spinning 15-yard run in the fourth quarter. When the team originally announced Allen’s injury, it mentioned a week-to-week recovery time frame, an indication that his status for the regular-season opener could be in jeopardy.
The Bears like the fact Allen is a contributor on special teams and he provides a different element in the backfield than Matt Forte and Michael Bush. But Ford appears to be a very similar player to Allen. He’s cheaper, too.