BOURBONNAIS -- No position group values continuity more than the offensive line, where the goal is for five players to function in sync.
Last year's first five are all back after each one started every game in 2013. From left tackle to right tackle, Jermon Bushrod, Matt Slauson, Roberto Garza, Kyle Long and Jordan Mills are expected to be in the same spots on opening day, although Long won't begin practicing until next week because of a viral infection. Last year's top backup, Eben Britton, is also back.
"We've got a bunch of the same faces this year, so that's always a good thing," quarterback Jay Cutler said. "Any time you can get those five guys working together year after year, they're going to become more like one. I think this is probably the closest-knit offensive-line group I've been around."
The group has experience of Garza (14th year) and Bushrod (eighth year), youthfulness in second-year pros Long and Mills, along with Slauson and Britton, who are both entering their sixth season. Slauson has already started 64 games and Britton has 34 starts.
Said Cutler: "The older veterans do such a good job of taking care of (the younger guys) and making sure everyone's accountable and knows what they have to do each and every day play. I'm excited to get them all back out there."
With so many local sports fans, including Mount Carmel High School and Northern Illinois University alumni pulling for him, undrafted rookie running back Jordan Lynch is one of the most popular players in camp.
"I know Chicago has my back," said Lynch, who finished third in last year's Heisman Trophy voting as the Huskies' quarterback. "But I have to go out there and do the work."
As a multi-threat quarterback, Lynch rushed for 4,344 yards and 48 touchdowns at NIU, but switching positions required a crash course in the finer points of playing running back, so Lynch went back to school.
"I went up to Northern and worked out with the team a little bit," Lynch said, "worked with some running backs and did some position drills there."
Lynch is also expected to be a major contributor on special teams, and that might be his best chance to make the 53-man roster. Seeking to add quickness, he fine-tuned his diet and dropped from 220 to 205 pounds.
"I feel stronger and faster," he said. "I'm anxious. I'm going to learn as much as possible. I'm going to try to help the team out, so I'm going to go in there, really be a film junkie, get in the weight room, keep in shape, and just compete."
Quarterback Jay Cutler agrees that he's under less pressure this year, having signed a $126 million contract extension in January and having a year in the Marc Trestman/Aaron Kromer offense under his belt.
"There were a lot of questions last year going into the season," Cutler said. "Would I be back? How would everything work out with 'Tress'? How would the offense work?
"This year, there are still questions, but they're questions about are we going to perform and do what we did last year. That's a better feeling going into camp for myself. I'm excited to go out there with these guys. I've talked to them in the last couple weeks, and everyone is pretty amped up about it."
Safety Craig Steltz was originally expected to be ready for Friday's opening practice despite off-season groin surgery, but he wil start camp on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list. Steltz is expected back soon. Guard Kyle Long (viral infection), who is on the non-footnall injury list, is still scheduled to be re-evaluated next week and could return then.