- Jeff Dickerson, ESPN Staff Writer
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Stats: Selected by the Bears in the fifth-round of the 2013 NFL draft out of Louisiana Tech, Mills started all 16 games at right tackle before leaving the regular-season finale against the Green Bay Packers in the first quarter with a foot injury that required offseason surgery. Mills was part of a revamped Bears offensive line that surrendered 30 sacks (the Bears surrendered 44 sacks in 2012) and helped pave the way for Matt Forte to run for a career-high 1,339 yards and nine touchdowns.
2013 role: Mills stood out on draft weekend when he enthusiastically declared that he expected to contribute as a rookie. He began training camp behind veteran J’Marcus Webb at right tackle, but in a short period of time he moved past Webb on the depth chart. Mills never looked back while the Bears eventually cut Webb at the end of the preseason. Mills fractured the fifth metatarsal in his left foot in Week 17 and underwent surgery in January. If his rehab goes as expected, Mills should return to the field during OTAs sometime in May.
The good: Mills is friendly, outgoing and professional off the field, but he plays with a nasty streak. Mills got into it with Minnesota Vikings Pro Bowl defensive end Jared Allen after the whistle in a game the Bears eventually lost in overtime in the Metrodome. Why does that matter? Because in three full seasons, Webb never went at anybody like that, not even Allen, who certainly had it coming after he ended ex-Bears guard Lance Louis’ season in 2012 with a cheap shot to the knees on a blindside block following an interception. Mills cares. He takes it personal. That's the type of attitude the Bears want from their offensive linemen. Mills never played himself out of the starting lineup. That’s important to note when evaluating his rookie season. It’s not as if the Bears struggled on offense. They ranked sixth in points scored per game (24.8) and eighth in total offense (381.8). If Mills had been a liability at right tackle, he would have been replaced.
The bad: Mills certainly wasn’t flawless. He made his share of mistakes. Several websites rated him as the Bears' worst offensive lineman in 2013. Some of those struggles can be attributed to the fact that Mills started all 16 games as a rookie. He also experienced a large jump in competition, going from a WAC school (Louisiana Tech) to the NFL. Mills definitely needs to work on his body and hit the weight room. Unfortunately, that kind of offseason work will have to wait until Mills recovers from the foot surgery. That is disappointing.
Looking ahead: Mills would really benefit from being able to participate in some of the offseason program before the team breaks until the beginning of training camp. If Mills can be physically ready to go when the club reports to Bourbonnais, Ill., in late July, there is no reason he cannot start the entire upcoming season at right tackle. Mills also gives the Bears the flexibility to move him to guard in the future, if the organization ultimately decides that Kyle Long’s immense talents are better suited at tackle. But at this point, Mills appears to have been a solid selection by the Bears in the fifth round, easily the club’s best fifth-round choice since Johnny Knox in 2009.