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Durkin's Notes: Focus Remains On The Offensive Line

By Dan Durkin-

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. (CBS) — "Vicious" and "highly competitive" were the words head coach Marc Trestman used to describe Monday's practice, one which he believed was among the team's best.

Here are some of my observations and impressions from the second-to-last practice in Bourbonnais, as well as some upcoming league milestone dates and a salary cap update.

Old Habits Die Hard

Even with a new head coach running a new offensive system, the focus remains on the offensive line. There will be new starters at four positions, which puts a strain on the most important element of line play: continuity. Yes, physical talent is essential, but in order to work harmoniously and properly execute assignments, there must be clear understanding of line calls, which takes time.

Bringing in Aaron Kromer to coach the offensive line was one of the best moves the Bears made this offseason. Kromer is very demanding and particular about how he wants his drills to be run during individual (position group) periods. On Monday, after Kyle Long's first rep of the day in a zone step drill, Kromer exclaimed: "For God's sake, bring your hands from the ground up!"

The teaching point here was to emphasize that the strongest punches start low to high, similar to the power lifts – cleans – athletes do in the weight room. Offensive lineman get into trouble when they start their punch from the shoulder level, as they're not incorporating their lower body, and the strike point is easier for a defensive lineman to slap away.

The amount of individual attention Kromer gave to Long in the individual periods shows me that they're both coaching him hard and doing everything they can to get him ready to start in Week 1.

Fellow rookie Jordan Mills has been under the microscope this week, after being inserted at right tackle with the first team. As Adam Hoge pointed out here, Monday was an up and down day for Mills. Mills was letting Wootton get to his pads first, bending his back, and losing the leverage battle.

In my rookie spotlight about Mills, I mentioned some techniques that he learned in college needing to be "unlearned" in the NFL, and it's clear – and understandable – that he's is a little overwhelmed at the moment.

It's encouraging that the Bears have young offensive line prospects in the pipeline, but for this season, it's not ideal. Two rookies on the same side of the line who are unsure of their assignments could lead to a limited playbook, and limited eligible receivers, as backs and tight ends would be kept in to chip on the edge.

Rookie Linebackers Making an Impact

Jon Bostic's pick-6 made all the highlight reels, rightly so. It was both a great read of the quarterback and an incredibly athletic play on the ball. Fellow rookie linebacker Khaseem Greene also made some standout plays on Friday night.

One play in particular was near the goal line, when Greene read the pulling backside guard and not only followed him, but beat him to the hole to stuff a running back on a tackle-for-loss. I spoke with defensive coordinator Mel Tucker about this play and Greene's progress in general.

"I think he's picking up the scheme, he's more certain about what he's supposed to do in his alignments, he's very detail-oriented and wants to do it right," Tucker said. "He's put the work in, he's more at ease and more comfortable getting aligned, and therefore he can play faster. I think that's what you saw on the field."

Tucker wants his linebackers to play multiple positions to give them flexibility, but confirmed Greene will get his reps at Will. This makes sense, as Greene plays well in space. With Lance Briggs under contract this year and next, Greene will have a chance to make an impact on special teams, where his speed and knack for creating turnovers can be great assets.

Much like the two rookie offensive lineman, the Bears appear to have two solid, young linebacking prospects to work with. Phil Emery was brought in to close the talent gap via the draft, and the early returns on his 2013 draft class look promising.

Upcoming League Calendar Dates

  • On August 27th, teams must reduce their rosters from 90 to 75.
  • On August 31th, teams must reduce their rosters down to 53. Additionally on the 31st, clubs that have players in the categories of Active/Physically Unable to Perform or Active/Non-Football Injury or Illness must select one of the following options: place player on Reserve/Physically Unable to Perform or Reserve/Non-Football Injury or Illness, whichever is applicable; request waivers; terminate contract; trade contract; or continue to count the player on the Active List.
  • On September 1st, teams can establish an eight man practice squad.
  • On September 3rd, teams are permitted to place a player on Reserve/Injured as "Designated for Return."

Cap Update

  • Currently, the Bears have $997K in free cap space. Keep in mind, this number only accounts for the top 51 salaries.
  • On September 5th, the Rule of 51 expires and teams are required to account for all 53 salaries plus their practice squad players (rate is $6,000 per player per week). Thus, the Bears are truly right up against the cap, so final cutdowns could be interesting.

Follow Dan on Twitter: @djdurkin

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