Offseason Review: Interior Linemen, Part 2

KyleLongI’m finishing up this section of the Offseason Review this morning; yesterday’s post focused on the two players on the roster capable of playing center. Today’s will be players who strictly played guard, although in one (probably obvious) case, I could see a move to tackle in the future.

Matt Slauson, LG

I’m going to cheat a bit with this one; after Slauson signed his contract extension as part of Phil Emery’s Bears Blowout Extension Extravaganza, I wrote this about his contributions to the Bears:

“Slauson signed a one-year deal with the Bears last offseason, for near the minimum. Yet another great find by Phil Emery, who continues to inspire a lot of confidence (Shea McClellin notwithstanding), and I’m excited to see what Slauson can do going forward. (Plus, as I’ve mentioned before, he has a great Chicago Bear last name; perfect for maximum Superfan-accent pronunciation.)”

That’s all still true, but it’s worth noting that Pro Football Focus’s metrics rated Slauson very highly; his overall grade of 20.2 was the second-highest on the team, regardless of position. (Again, that number is not the be all/end all, but it certainly matches the eye test in this case.) Moreover, Slauson finished the year very strong, with eight of his final nine games on the positive side of the ledger.

Slauson is about to turn 28, and he was extremely durable in 2013 (that’s a broken record when it comes to the offensive line) playing 100% of the available offensive snaps. He’s now under contract for the next four seasons, at a reasonable rate for an above-average offensive lineman ($12.8 million total/$4.9 million guaranteed). Those are all good things for the Bears. I’m looking forward to watching Slauson, and if he can provide something like his 2013 performance going forward, the Bears will have a bargain.

Kyle Long, RG

Long was considered a reach when the Bears selected him with their first round pick in last spring’s Draft; scouts praised his raw athleticism and NFL pedigree, but most considered him a major project. One Pro Bowl appearance later, and it’s clear the Bears have a very interesting prospect on their hands. Of course, having taken a circuitous path to football (Long was originally a pitcher at Florida State, which is just a ridiculous mental image), Long is older than the typical rookie, having turned 25 in December.

So he’s an interesting combination of advanced age  (limiting expected gains from physical development) and minimal football experience (raising expected gains from, well, football experience.) I think he can clean up his technique, especially under the guidance of this coaching staff; that, along with more time going up against NFL-caliber defenders, has me excited to see what he can bring.

I also wonder if he ends up at tackle; he’s certainly athletic, as evidenced by his ability to pull and set the edge for a variety of running plays. And at 6’6″ 313, size wouldn’t be an issue. I think moving him to tackle so quickly might be a bit too much; another year’s worth of experience at guard, and maybe it’s time to contemplate that more seriously. But if the Bears feel that Long would be a major upgrade on Jordan Mills, and that his production at right guard can be replaced, maybe that happens this offseason. (I tend to doubt that, but that stems mostly from my assumption that they’ll try to change as little as possible on offense.)

I also want to mention that I really like the fire Long displays on the field. I’m not saying I want him to be involved in a fight (as he was against the Rams, when his brother ran in from the opposing sideline to pull him away) but I really like that Long is unwilling to allow opponents to get away with cheap shots on his Chicago teammates. Multiple times this year, Jay Cutler or Josh McCown would take a questionably late hit, and Long would be right there. I think that’s important in football, a sport that is essentially licensed brawling between the whistles. I’m not afflicted with a bloodlust, but I’m glad that someone has the QB’s back to the extend that Long seems to.

James Brown, G

Brown joined the Bears in 2012 as an undrafted free agent from Troy (the school, not the ancient city-state), and he actually saw some action at the tail-end of the 2012 season, starting the final three games. (A quick search tells me that those starts came after Chilo Rachal quit the team; remember that? I hadn’t until now.) But the Bears health on offense in 2013 kept him on the sidelines, and it’s tough to say where he fits in moving forward. He’s due to make just $570,000 this season, and the Bears are obviously very cap-conscious, and the obvious benefit of having a very cheap and potentially capable backup on the roster is not something they’ll ignore.

Brown is obviously not going to unseat either Slauson or Long at guard, but if the Bears do consider moving Long outside, or if (heaven forbid, knock on wood) an injury occurs in training camp, Brown might very well find himself in line for a starting role. (Furiously knocking.)

Jay Rigdon is the editor and lead writer at Bleacher Nation Bears, and can also be found @BearsBN on Twitter.

15 responses to “Offseason Review: Interior Linemen, Part 2”

  1. mdavis

    i think should Long bump out at some point, he and mills will simply swap places. and like you said Jay, i love the fire Long brings. As a QB you love having that guy whos there backing u up immedietly. there were several times cutler pointed out he’d be the first guy in a fight to back up his teammates and you love that. certinaly needs a little more composure than he displayed against the rams, but other than that, let that fire burn.

  2. frank

    Many analysts think that Long is best suited for the left side–some have even said he has all-pro capability there–so it may be that that Long eventually moves to LT and Bushrod moves to RT. They’d have to get a RG, but they should be able to do that–maybe Mills? I don’t know how well he’d project as a G.

    1. mdavis

      true, depending on the timing Bushrod could kick over. I agree with Long’s athleticism he could be real solid on the left side. But i see this as another 2 years down the road, especially if we’re talking bout Bushrod moving. but certainly gives them some flex

  3. frank

    I believe Tony Wise, who worked with Long, said that he can be a pro-bowl caliber LT. I believe Bushrod will be 30 next year too–not that old as far as OL go, so if he moves to RT and Long meets his potential at RT, that can be a very good pair for a few years at least.

  4. Jon

    In Aaron Kromer’s scheme, interior guard player is much more valued than right tackle play. The theory behind that is if you can keep a clean interior pocket for your QB, the QB can step up and avoid the edge rushers. I can’t see Long being moved to right tackle.

    1. frank

      True–that would favor keeping Long at G, but it seems that his athleticism would be of even more benefit at LT–especially since it’s easier to find a G than a pro-bowl caliber LT. They do a lot of pulling from the G position though.

      1. mdavis

        Bushrod is still in his prime, so I think they’d leave Long at G until they start to see a decline, then maybe kick him out to LT. probably 2, at least, years down the road? Until tthen perfetly content with him inside and just gaining football experience.

        1. frank

          Makes sense–but if Long can perform well at LT, Bushrod can dominate at RT. Also, on WSCR, Hub Arkush said he didn’t think the Bears are planning to bring Tillman back. I think to not bring him back would be a mistake–Tillman’s still performing at a high level, and they don’t need another hole anywhere on that defense–but especially not in the backfield. It’s a big cap hit–$8 M–maybe renegotiate a more team friendly deal . . .

          1. mdavis

            I want Tillman back too, but how much do you pay a 33 yr old corner? If he’s willing to take a pay cut, I’m all for it. Maybe he wants to go to Tampa, though Ihave a tough time seeing them bumping Banks from the lineup and stunting his development….Either way, if they don’t bring Tillman back, that pushes corner up even higher on the draft list.

            1. frank

              I don’t know–$4 M? There are injury concerns too, but fixing that defense is going to be hard enough as it is. Creating another hole to fill will be a problem.

              1. mdavis

                to me, he’d be one hell of a safety. but doesnt sound like he has any interest in that at all. I could almost see this being another Urlacher situation, though I think Tillman is way more productive at this point than 54. Dallas could be another option with Marinelli down there and the apparen lakc of faith in Morris Claiborne. But hopefully it works out. something like 2 years $7 mil, 2.5-3.5 guaranteed? but would that work for Peanut, which is hard for any aging player to accept. we’ll see

                1. frank

                  I don’t think there’s any doubt he’d be a great safety–but he said in an interview once that the physical toll would be too much. Or 4 years $16 M with 8 guaranteed, knowing that he may not play out the contract?

                  1. mdavis

                    yeah true true. i mean the years themselves wont make a difference. its all going to come down to that guarenteed money because noawadays its all about the younger, player. “need to get younger on defense”. With the cap space, i just dont see them offering that much gaurenteed cash. it’ll be a sad day if he’s gone, but i think max they offer $3 mil guarenteed over…2 years? maybe?

                    1. frank

                      I guess it also depends on how much they can spread the hit. I agree–it’ll be sad if they let him go.

  5. Ed