Competition gets Houston, Mills fired up
BOURBONNAIS -- The most competitive, physical and entertaining matchup of training camp pits defensive left end Lamarr Houston against right tackle Jordan Mills.
Since the pads went on Sunday, a lot of their head-to-head battles have ended with contact after the whistle; pushing, shoving and the frequent exchanges of unpleasantries.
Houston is a fifth-year veteran, a high-motor, no-nonsense grinder even on the practice field. And he is arguably the NFL's best run-stopping D-end.
Mills was a pleasant surprise last season, starting all 16 games as a rookie, but the fifth-round pick still has much to learn, and he's getting an education from Houston.
"That's such a benefit for him to have someone like Lamarr to block," offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said of Mills. "They're both physical, strong, athletic guys, and it has been entertaining. They win some, they lose some, they learn from losing, and it's beneficial."
Beneficial and then some, according to Mills.
"It's helping me a lot," he said. "We go back and forth. I'll win one, he'll win one; it's great competition.
"He's a quick, nimble and strong. He can bend like no other and get low to the ground, so it's helping me be more nimble and quicker with my hands and learn how to approach him and how to go against guys just like him."
Mills admits it sometimes goes beyond teammates just competing, but it comes with the territory.
"Some days there's going to be extra pushing and tempers are going to flare," he said. "It's going to get heated, but it's all about football, and it only makes you better as a player."
Checking the depth:
While Kyle Long has been out since the start of camp with a viral infection, versatile veteran Eben Britton has taken most of the snaps at right guard with the first team.
But Monday, Brian de la Puente and Michael Ola also got some reps at right guard with the ones.
"We've got a lot of confidence in all those guys," coach Marc Trestman said. "It's a competition between Eben, Brian, Ola, and all those guys are certainly very capable guys that we're glad to have. They're getting the work against the ones, and that gets us better."
Britton played extensively last season when the Bears went to a six-offensive linemen alignment, which usually was several times a game. With a total of 34 NFL starts at tackle and guard, Britton remains the top backup.
But de la Puente started 44 games at center for the New Orleans Saints over the previous three seasons, where he was coached by Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer. Ola spent two seasons in the Canadian Football League with the Montreal Alouettes, where he played for Marc Trestman.
"We miss him," quarterback Jay Cutler said of Long. "When you take a talent like that out of the offense, it's hard to replaced him.
"But everyone who's stepped in, Ola, Ebb and 'de la,' all those guys have done a fabulous job. It's a really tight-knit group, that offensive-line room, so those guys work well together."
Long, who had been on the sidelines for every practice, was back in Chicago on Monday being re-evaluated, and he could be back on the field for the next practice Wednesday morning.
Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (foot) and defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff (coach's decision) sat out Monday, joining wide receiver Terrence Toliver (toe), cornerback Tim Jennings (quad), safeties Chris Conte (shoulder) and Craig Steltz (groin) and guard Kyle Long (virus).