Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Lost in all the attention Lamarr Houston’s season ending knee injury got is the fact that the Bears also lost starting LG Matt Slauson for the season with a torn right pectoral muscle. Slauson started all 16 games for the Bears last year at LG and according to Pro Football Focus was the Bears best offensive lineman (21.8 grade) and the 4th best LG in the NFL. The Bears rewarded Slauson’s solid play in 2013 with with a 4-year contract this off-season. It had already been a rough 2014 for Slauson, who missed weeks 2-4 with an ankle injury and probably came back a week too early since he played his worst game as a Bear in week 5. Slauson was playing better the last three weeks (3.4 grade), but now his season is over.
That leaves the Bears with a significant hole in their starting lineup. Rookie Michael Ola filled for admirably for Slauson during his first injury, but Ola replaced the struggling Jordan Mills at RT last week and is likely to hold down the job. That leaves the Bears with a couple of options, they could use Eben Britton who has experience and both guard and tackle, but also is the Bears 3rd tight end. Rookie 7th round pick Charles Leno Jr played left tackle in college but was thought by most scouts to be a better fit at guard in the NFL do to a lack of height (6’3), but inserting a rookie who has never played the position into the starting lineup seems like a risky move to me. The Bears have two rookie guards on the practice squad, Ryan Groy (Wisc) and Conor Bofeli (Iowa), but if the Bears didn’t think either was ready for a backup role on the active roster, I doubt they would be comfortable with them starting. Moving center Brian de la Puente over to guard is another option, but he has very little experience at guard and that would leave the Bears without a backup center on the roster if Garza needs a rest or gets hurt during a game. All of the options listed have downside, so perhaps the best move for the Bears would be moving 2nd-year player Jordan Mills to left guard.
Jordan Mills surprised everyone last season when the 5th round pick won the starting RT job over the always disappointing J’Marcus Webb. Mills started out great with a dominant performance in week one against a solid Cincinnati Bengals line, but it was mostly downhill from there. Mills finished the 2013 season as the worst rated RT (-36.2) by Pro Football Focus and has been the 3rd worst RT so far in 2013. His low grade is somewhat deceiving as it is almost completely due to his struggles in pass protection. Mills actually grades out near league average as a run blocker, but just doesn’t have the quickness to handle speed rushers off the edge. A move inside to guard will limit Mills exposure to speed rushers and allow him to use his above average strength to maul defenders in the run game and to block slower DTs in pass protection. To me this move makes the most sense as the Bears don’t lose any depth at other positions or take a chance with an untested rookie, and it may allow Mills to blossom into a starting caliber player which he wasn’t at right tackle.