Everyone at Halas Hall hoped for improved offensive line play this season, but no one could have realistically expected the upgrade to happen so swiftly or been so dramatic.
Not with two rookies starting. Not with two unrestricted free agents coming in.
It just didn't seem possible.
But here we are after eight games and Jay Cutler and Josh McCown have been sacked just nine times. Only three teams have allowed fewer sacks per pass play than the Bears, who are on pace to allow less than half as many sacks as last year. Cutler was dropped 148 times from 2009-12, an average of 37 sacks a season.
The Bears' improvement on the line has been even more noticeable when it comes to discipline, specifically pre-snap penalties and especially false starts. Jumping the gun happened to the Bears with maddening frequency last season -- 25 times to be exact. This year it's happened just once, to rookie RT Jordan Mills in Week 4.
"I think it just shows how locked in we are every week," left guard Matt Slauson of Mills, rookie right guard Kyle Long, LT Jermon Bushrod and center Roberto Garza. "It's hard to put your finger on exactly what it is, but from the time we get in here in the morning until the time we leave at night it's just go, go, go, go, go -- very little breaks.
"The sheer volume of material we have to absorb throughout the week makes it so that we have to be incredibly locked in the whole entire time. That probably carries over into the game where we have been so used to being bombarded with information and knowledge that it's no different on Sundays now."
Like most NFL teams preparing to play in a hostile environment, the Bears practice with some kind of noise piped in. That's been a staple at Halas Hall, but this is the first season in recent years that it has produced positive results.
Offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Aaron Kromer was asked why it's working now, and he said it's more than becoming comfortable with the noise.
"It's working on snap counts; it's working on understanding what to do on plays," Kromer said. "There are some false starts that happen because you don't know what to do. You're thinking so hard on what to do that you can't remember what the cadence was. You can only attribute it to their hard work in the meeting rooms and on the practice field and going out with confidence into the game."
That confidence and discipline will be tested Sunday against a Lions defensive line that is one of the NFL's best and sacked Cutler three times in Week 4, one of which caused a fumble that was returned 4 yards for a touchdown.
"It'll be tough, but I feel like we can do it," Slauson said. "I feel like, as a line, we've been growing every week. It's another great challenge for us, and I'm sure we'll be up for the test."
Running back Matt Forte is on pace for personal bests in rushing yards (1,316), receptions (80), receiving yards (632) and rushing touchdowns (14) behind the rebuilt line. He sees the group getting better and better.
"They're just becoming one group," Forte said. "Every game they play together they learn more about themselves and the person next to them. Those five guys have been playing together now eight games and they're one group.
"They've been through camp and all that, but each game they get more cohesive, and they know how to read what the other guy's going to do and how to communicate calls and everything on the line, even in the noise out there."
The improvement the Bears have made up front is even more impressive, considering 80 percent of the line has changed. Normally it would take longer to jell.
"Typically yes," Slauson said. "But all five of us are true pros, and it just shows our own preparation and readiness each week. It's going great, and we have to keep it going."
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