New-look offensive line for Chicago Bears

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Chicago Bears' Jay Cutler participates in the NFL football team's minicamp at Halas Hall Tuesday, June 14, 2016, in Lake Forest, Lake Forest, Ill.

    Chicago Bears' Jay Cutler participates in the NFL football team's minicamp at Halas Hall Tuesday, June 14, 2016, in Lake Forest, Lake Forest, Ill.

 
 
Updated 6/15/2016 7:27 PM

You couldn't blame quarterback Jay Cutler if he was concerned for his well-being looking ahead to the 2016 season.

Of the five offensive linemen who started the first three games for the Chicago Bears in 2015, only one, Kyle Long, will be in the 2016 opening-day lineup, and he will be playing a different position.

 

It could be wishful thinking on Cutler's part, but he says he's encouraged by the Bears' talent up front as the off-season draws to a close. The start of training camp is less than six weeks away.

"I think we've got a really good group," said Cutler, who's entering his 11th NFL season and eighth with the Bears. "We don't have to say much to them."

As Bears fans and former offensive left tackle J'Marcus Webb know, Cutler isn't shy about voicing his displeasure when the situations calls for it. Despite several changes and an infusion of youth on the line, Cutler hasn't publicly taken anyone to task.

During Wednesday's penultimate minicamp practice, the first-team O-line from left tackle to right tackle, was Charles Leno, Cody Whitehair, Hroniss Grasu, Long and Bobby Massie. All are younger than 28.

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Leno was a seventh-round pick in 2015 who started the final 13 games at left tackle last year.

Whitehair is this year's second-round pick. To keep the left guard job, he will have to unseat veteran Ted Larsen, who did not practice Wednesday.

Grasu, a third-round pick last year, started eight games as a rookie after Will Montgomery was hurt and had an inconsistent season.

Long, a Pro Bowl pick in each of his first three seasons, is more comfortable back at right guard after filling in at right tackle last season.

Long's move back inside was made possible by the free-agency acquisition of the veteran road-grader Massie. Those two make the right side a team strength. But the other three spots aren't as stable.

"It's just going to be experience with those guys," Cutler said. "Like the backfield, there's going to be some growing pains, and there's going to be some stuff in preseason that we have to fix. (But) overall I'm really happy with how they've progressed through the off-season."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

If the new group jells, it could remain intact for a long time, given its youthfulness. Larsen, at 28, is the oldest of 14 offensive lineman on the roster.

So whichever way the line is configured, youngsters will have important roles, and they could be asked to play sooner than they think.

"You always need younger guys to step up," Long said. "That's one thing we try to convey to these rookies. It's not like, 'You're a rookie; you're not going to be able to play this year.'

"I played 16 games my rookie year. I was a backup going into training camp. You never know when that one practice will break your chance of being in a starting role or vault you into a starting position."

Whitehair is 23, Grasu and Leno are 24, and Massie, already with four seasons and 46 starts under his belt, is just 26.

"The table is set for younger guys to eat," Long said. "They've just got to get there before the older guys, I guess."

Although Long is just 27, he became the longest-tenured starter on the line following the April release of former line leader Matt Slauson, and he has accepted some of the responsibilities that previously belonged to older linemates.

A lot of those duties come under the category of "social chairman," which the outgoing Long seems perfectly suited to handle.

"Getting together is something that's been part of this offensive-line group since I was a rookie," Long said. "Roberto Garza showed me the way, and then Matt Slauson took over.

"Without Matt, we kind of looked around and we're like, 'Who's going to do this?' Leno was like, 'You got it dude. You can organize the group text.' "

Long says he's enjoying his new role.

"We'll go get something to eat, or we'll go watch a basketball game," he said. "I've had the guys over to my house, and they clean up, which is nice. Cody Whitehair is a gentleman. He always does the dishes. It's been good."

The hope for the O-line is that off-the-field togetherness translates to a cohesive group on the field. After a 6-10 season in 2015, fans aren't the only ones expecting across-the-board improvement.

"We've got to be better than last year," Cutler said, "that's for sure. That's what we tell the guys, even though we're in Year 2, and we've got some new pieces out here. That's not an excuse for us."

That goes for everyone, including a young and rebuilt offensive line.

• Follow Bob's Bears reports on Twitter @BobLeGere.

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