- Jeff Dickerson, ESPN Staff Writer
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears knew at the end of last season the team desperately needed a massive overhaul on the offensive line. Mission accomplished. General manager Phil Emery tackled the issue of improving the line by investing significant resources in both free agency and the NFL draft en route to acquiring left tackle Jermon Bushrod, left guard Matt Slauson, right guard Kyle Long and right tackle Jordan Mills -- leaving veteran center Roberto Garza as the lone holdover from 2012.
This new-look group will be put to the test immediately in Week 1. The Cincinnati Bengals come to town Sunday with arguably one of the top defensive lines in the NFL, led by the game’s premiere three-technique defensive tackle Geno Atkins, who inked a lucrative five-year contract extension after he led all interior defensive linemen last season with 12.5 sacks to go along with a team-high 15 tackles for loss.
As a unit, the Bengals’ defensive line recorded 43 sacks last season and helped the defense rank sixth in fewest yards allowed.
This should present a terrific challenge up front for the Bears, especially for the Long/Mills rookie right side of the offensive line. Atkins told the Chicago media during a conference call on Wednesday that he was impressed by Long’s performance in the preseason after the first-round pick won the starting job outright. The Atkins-Long matchup is expected to be one of the most intriguing battles on Sunday.
“He’s big and he’s physical, very aggressive and a strong player,” Atkins said. “And by watching him, you can tell he likes to get after defensive linemen. He likes to get off, be aggressive and show his strength.”
Atkins also praised Bears tailback Matt Forte, who averaged 9.9 yards per carry on 15 rushing attempts behind the offensive line in the preseason. Forte is expected to be a focal point of the Bears’ offense in Week 1.
“He’s very, I want to say, shifty,” Atkins said. “He likes to cut back, so, I mean, he’s very explosive. If you give him a cutback lane, he will take it back and make you pay. To me, that makes him a dynamic player.
They’ve got tons of playmakers like Jay Cutler, Forte and Michael Bush. The offensive line is pretty stout. They’re a big group. And Brandon Marshall. They’re already loaded, so we just have to get after them.”