As Bears don pads, Cutler under constant pressure
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BOURBONNAIS — Any of the 9,000 or so fans who descended upon Sunday's practice expecting to see quarterback Jay Cutler operate in a clean pocket were disappointed.
Defensive linemen clearly got the best of their offensive counterparts for much of the Bears' first training camp practice in pads on a crisp morning that felt more like October than July. By autumn the Bears hope Cutler won't be pressured as quickly and consistently as he was Sunday.
"I thought the defense had the jump start on us, and there were defensive players who had edges," said head coach Marc Trestman, whose area of expertise is on offense. "We have to clean up some of the things inside, and we'll do that. That's pretty normal for the first time. Usually the defense has the jump, and it usually evens out in the end. I thought as we went along during practice and (in) the competitive portions we cleaned things up."
The defensive line has a decided edge in cohesiveness.
The starting front four, from left end to right end — Corey Wootton, Henry Melton, Stephen Paea and Julius Peppers — is the same as last season. The only offensive lineman on a rebuilt unit in the same spot as last season is center Roberto Garza, so that group has a ways to go before it achieves optimum synchronicity.
"We had some ups and downs, starting with myself," said two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jermon Bushrod, who was brought in from New Orleans to protect Cutler's blind side. "You get the pads on for the first day, and you've got to face guys like Julius and Wootton coming off that edge. You get a little jittery, but you've got to slow yourself down and get back to the fundamentals and just go out here and do your part to have a little bit of success."
New left guard Matt Slauson, signed away from the Jets in free agency, is optimistic despite the O-line's inauspicious debut.
"I haven't experienced this type of work ethic," said Slauson, who started all 48 games for the Jets the past three seasons. "It's been very, very inspiring. It's been incredible to see. I'm excited about that."
New offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Aaron Kromer comes with a reputation for developing quality blockers. In his previous four years with the Saints, Kromer's coaching helped five New Orleans offensive linemen make a total of 10 Pro Bowl appearances.
"He's a very, very technical coach," Slauson said. "Everything is so precise. But he also likes to get on you and push you and make you work."
If Kromer wanted to get on any of the O-linemen when they watched Sunday's tape, he'd have had plenty of ammunition. One of his pet projects this year is first-round pick Kyle Long, who is trying to win the right guard spot from James Brown, an undrafted rookie last season who started the final three games at left guard.
"I get too aggressive sometimes," said Long, whose strength and athleticism have already impressed teammates and coaches. "That's a problem of mine. I want to go jump on people, and coach Kromer has said to take it easy and things'll slow down for you in terms of recognition; and guys have said that to me as well. We go fast (tempo wise), but in terms of in-play recognition, you need to slow down and relax a little bit."
The Bears are hoping J'Marcus Webb is better at right tackle than he was the past two seasons at left tackle, where he started all 32 games but wasn't the consistent pass protector the team wanted. While Webb has lined up with the starters, he isn't guaranteed a job with seventh-year veteran Jonathon Scott, a six-game starter at right tackle last season, pressing him.
Whoever winds up in the starting five, the off-season additions are expected to make the Bears a much stronger team in pass protection than they've been the past three seasons, when they allowed 149 sacks, more than any team in the NFL except the Cardinals.
But the improvement won't happen overnight.
"You've got to take it one day at a time," Bushrod said. "That's all you can do.
"You have your meeting times, and you have the time when you come out here and you strap it up against the defense. You've got to fight to take it from the classroom out here to the field.
"It's easier said than done. But it's just repetition. The more we do it, the more we talk about it, the more we can put ourselves in better situations."
Then they can put Cutler in better situations than he experienced Sunday.
• Follow Bob's NFL reports on Twitter @BobLeGere, and check out his Bear Essentials blog at dailyherald.com/sports.
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