Fittest loser
Article updated: 8/22/2013 7:53 PM

Bears' Mills looking to lock down starting spot

Chicago Bears offensive tackle Jordan Mills (67) during the Chicago Bears training camp Wednesday on the campus of Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais.

Chicago Bears offensive tackle Jordan Mills (67) during the Chicago Bears training camp Wednesday on the campus of Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais.

 

Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

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While he protects Jay Cutler and opens holes for Matt Forte, right tackle Jordan Mills is trying to beat the odds.

Fifth-round picks aren't supposed to crack the opening day lineup as rookies. If so, they'd have been selected much earlier. Not even the confident, 6-foot-5, 316-pound Mills thought he'd win a starting job so soon.

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"But you never know what's going to happen," he said. "My college coach (at Louisiana Tech) always told me to expect the unexpected. I didn't come in expecting to start. I expected to learn behind these great tackles and offensive line, get tutelage.

"When I came in here, they took me under their wing, and I learned as I went. Coach threw me in to see how I did, and I've been doing it pretty well in his eyes. In my eyes, I'm my worst critic, but I think I'm doing OK."

When J'Marcus Webb failed to impress in the preseason opener, Mills was the next man up only because veteran Jonathan Scott has been out since the end of July with a knee injury. But another impressive performance by the rookie in Friday's third preseason game at Oakland against the Raiders will all but assure that he runs out of the tunnel at Soldier Field with the starting offense on Sept. 8.

It's no surprise that first-round pick Kyle Long is starting at right guard ahead of James Brown, an undrafted rookie last year. But the safe play at right tackle would be to leave Webb there and allow Mills to get some experience. Despite his inconsistencies, Webb has 44 NFL starts, and he's still listed first on the Bears' unofficial depth chart. Mills is third, behind veteran Eben Britton, while Scott is No. 2 at left tackle behind Jermon Bushrod.

But the coaching staff was impressed enough with the rookies in the second preseason game to keep both in place as starters.

"They were athletic, (and) they were physical," coach Marc Trestman said. "Overall there was an upside in assignments, physicality and athleticism. We're not ready to pass judgment yet.

"We're just going to let this thing play itself out. But it was a positive experience for our football team to have them out there. They kept their poise. They did a lot of good things. They made mistakes as well that we think they can improve on and we'll see how it goes another week."

The third preseason game is the closest thing to the regular-season in game-planning, playing time for starters and intensity, so Mills could lock down the starting job with another impressive outing. But he's not looking that far ahead.

"It's still one game at a time," he said. "Coach said two weeks ago we're throwing people in at different spots to see how we do, so I'm just taking it one day at a time, one play at a time one, one moment at a time, trying to make myself better and my team better."

Mills and Long are already linked, arriving in the same draft and now playing alongside each other. Their bond will only grow stronger if they remain starters, but they make for an odd couple.

The son of Hall of Fame defensive end Howie, Long is completely at ease in the spotlight with a "been there, done that" attitude. Long has gotten an abundance of attention since he was picked in the first round.

Mills, who spent his college years in Ruston, La., where he says, "there's nothing there," isn't uncomfortable with his newfound celebrity, but he'd just as well deflect the attention to Long.

"I couldn't care less. He can have it all," Mills said with a laugh while surrounded by cameras, recorders and notepads. "I'm outgoing, but I'm also calm with myself, a blue-collar guy, get in, watch film and avoid everything as much as I can. If he gets the attention, I'm all for it.

"I support him, and I'm right there messing with him as he does to me all the time. If he knew I was out here, he'd be out here, too, rubbing his stomach and throwing his clothes. But he's a great guy and a great teammate to have."

Mills and Long met at the Senior Bowl in January, and Long was the first one to welcome Mills when he arrived in town.

"Kyle loves to have fun, he's a great guy, and he's been the same way ever since (we met)," Mills said. "To have him here with me is priceless. It's going to be a long journey, hopefully, between me and him."

• Follow Bob's NFL reports on Twitter @BobLeGere, and check out his Bear Essentials blog at dailyherald.com/sports.

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