BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears returned to the practice field following their preseason opener in Carolina with a different starting combination on the right side of the offensive line with rookies right tackle Jordan Mills and right guard Kyle Long replacing James Brown and the embattled J'Marcus Webb.
The Bears inserting 2013 first-round pick Long into the starting lineup is hardly a surprise since both he and Brown had been alternating reps with the No. 1 offense since the beginning of training camp. But Sunday marked the first time Mills, the Bears’ 2013 fifth-round choice out of Louisiana Tech, had jumped in front of Webb on the depth chart. Webb spent the practice at left tackle with the second team while Eben Britton worked at right tackle with the No. 2s. Veteran Jonathan Scott remained sidelined with a knee injury.
“It’s a great opportunity, it’s humbling, having Roberto Garza, Webb, Jermon Bushrod, Matt Slauson, the whole offensive line helps me,” Mills said. “They’re in your ear every time I make mistakes I can go to the sideline expecting some criticism, constructive criticism -- what to do here, you need to step this way, be a little bit lower, so it’s been great working with them. In my eyes, these dudes are all Hall of Famers in my eyes, so just to be here is so humbling.”
Bears head coach Marc Trestman cautioned that nothing is set in stone on the right side, but said Mills and Long will continue to get the bulk of the practice reps in the next couple of days leading up to the second preseason game against the San Diego Chargers, where the duo is likely to open up the game as starters.
However, Trestman stopped short of saying the team was sending a message to Webb.
“I think we've been very clear with J'Marcus about what we're doing,” Trestman said. “I said it last week that there's been an up-and-down performance level by J'Marcus but we were still going to do this. We were still going to give work to the other guys and see what they could do as well. So we'll evaluate it. We're going to go through the week like this. We'll evaluate the game and move forward into Oakland."
Entering the final year of his original rookie contract, Webb finds himself at a career crossroads. A former seventh-round pick out of West Texas A&M, Webb started all 16 games at left tackle the last two years, but got moved to the right side when the Bears signed Bushrod, a two-time Pro Bowl left tackle, in the offseason. Webb played right tackle his rookie year when he started 12 games at the position.
Webb was asked after practice if it disappointed him to practice on the second team at left tackle.
“No, not at all,” Webb said.
“They definitely wanted (me) to work out at both sides, and get a feel for playing tackle at both ends, and working with different guys. I was willing and ready to.”
Webb said he received no indication from the coaching staff that they were unhappy with the 10 snaps he played in Carolina. Webb surrendered a sack during the Bears’ final drive of the first quarter before the starters were pulled.
“This week, I’ve got to work on using my feet and my hands, and work on getting better every day, and work on my teammates,” Webb said. “We haven’t necessarily looked at the film too much. But I’ve definitely got to work on those things exclusively this week.”
While there is still plenty of time left in the preseason for things to work themselves out on the offensive line, the prospect of the Bears lining up two first-year players on the right side to begin the regular season does not come without risk. But despite their overall lack of NFL experience, Long said he and Mills have developed a steady rapport since the club reported to camp in late July.
“Since we’ve been working together a lot with the 2’s and 3’s, it was a good transition,” Long said. “I think they’re just trying to throw us in there and see what we can do. It was a lot of fun today to go against the ones, see some different faces, just another day to try and get better.”
The two rookies each played 52 snaps versus the Panthers and were on the field for 84 percent of the club’s total offensive plays. Long described his play as up-and-down, but obviously the Bears coaching staff felt good enough about his performance to elevate him over Brown on Sunday.
“Some good, some bad, some really good looking, some really bad looking,” Long said of his effort on Friday. “That’s just how a football game goes. You just try to minimize the mistakes and learn what you did wrong. I’ll probably look at it with Aaron Kromer in the next day or two before the Charger game and get working towards improvement.”