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.