Bears coach Marc Trestman said earlier this week he wasn't ready to make any announcements about the rookies on the right side of his offensive line.
His decision Thursday night for the exhibition finale against the Browns at Soldier Field said it all. First-round draft pick Kyle Long and fifth-round selection Jordan Mills went through warmups with the first unit and then they were spectators for the game.
As has been expected since they were promoted three weeks ago after the first exhibition against the Panthers, Long will open the season at right guard and Mills will be at right tackle. It means general manager Phil Emery's draft class, which likely will have second-rounder Jon Bostic at middle linebacker in the regular-season opener against the Bengals on Sept. 8, has an chance to make an immediate impact.
Trestman rested all 22 starters and many key backups as the Bears got respectable play from journeymen quarterbacks Jordan Palmer and Trent Edwards considering they were signed two weeks ago. Both passers put together solid drives but the Bears (2-2) lost 18-16 as the Browns rallied in the fourth quarter.
Palmer completed 11 of 17 passes for 111 yards, including a 5-yard touchdown pass to Joe Anderson. Michael Ford and Armando Allen combined to rush for 87 yards. Edwards completed 10 of 17 passes for 135 yards and was intercepted when a pass went through the hands of tight end Fendi Onobun and was returned for a touchdown. Both quarterbacks look like they would be solid as a third behind Jay Cutler and Josh McCown if the team goes that direction.
Most of the players who saw significant action are expected to be released, probably as soon as Friday as the Bears must cut the roster from 75 to 53 by 5 p.m. Saturday. The cuts could include safety Brandon Hardin, a third-round pick last year, and offensive tackle J'Marcus Webb, who has started 44 games over the last three seasons. But there probably won't be any real surprises.
Final cuts don't mean the roster will be settled for Week 1 either. Teams sift through the waiver wire seeking players who might be able to help, and there is often more roster turnover on Monday. An NFL source said the Bears have let it be known they are looking for backup help at tight end and safety, but really they're seeing what comes free across the board.
Long and Mills have done their best to remain low key about the opportunities ahead of them. They have been mindful of the process as rookies, deferring to veterans and talking about their need to get better.
"Until Coach tells me I am starting or someone else is starting, I am taking it one day at a time," Mills said.
"It is going to be exciting to get my first NFL season started and to see what it is like, how the atmosphere is. But it's about the team and the goals of the team."
That means inexperienced players will be next to one another, challenging center Roberto Garza to communicate effectively with Long so he can pass along any needed information to Mills. It raises an interesting question of whether the Bears will require more of tight end Martellus Bennett as a pass blocker.
"I'm not real concerned about Mills' pass protection right now," offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said. "I'd say he has done a nice job in pass pro. Now, does the guard need help? Does someone else need help? Do you need to help against some defensive tackle you can't block one-on-one? Then you get those two guys blocking him and Martellus blocking the end.
"You need to change the protections. You can't release Martellus every time. If you can get anywhere from five to 10 protection situations where he is in, it can help that side of the line."
The line is supposed to be improved in Trestman's first season. Growth will have to come with some rookies as the Bears open the season.
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