During the preseason games, the rookie class of the Chicago Bears looked primed to mold into great players. However, due to the horrendous injuries that plagued the Bears season, a handful of rookies had their share of playing time much sooner than expected. Now that the season is over, it is time to grade these rookies on their initiation to the NFL.
OG Kyle Long
With just a short time playing football for Oregon State, Kyle Long was considered unrefined and at times would overextend off the snap, losing his balance and allowing his man to disengage. But the Bears saw something in this young man and took him in the first round. He was not a disappointment. Long was determined to learn his role and prove to the team that he belonged there. He was aggressive in his mobility and worked closely with RT Jordan Mills to keep the defenses away from QB Jay Cutler.
He had solid combo blocks and displayed excellent footwork and mobility. What was impressive was his attitude to the team, his encouragement to his fellow players and a brotherhood he whole-heartedly cherishes. It is his attitude, professionalism and love of the game that granted him the honors of a Pro Bowl appearance in this January. He can only get better with more practice.
RT Jordan Mills
In 2012 QB Jay Cutler had no solid protection on his right side with ex-Bear J’Marcus Webb. This was an area that GM Phil Emery needed to fill fast if Cutler was to survive another year off his back. Drafted in the fifth round from Louisiana Tech, Mills was one of two players to sign a four-year contract right at the get go. After a strong preseason showing, he was assigned the right tackle position. He started all 17 games, allowing only three sacks. Cutler was more impressed with his performance when he could comfortably move in the pocket and have ample time to throw.
Mills showed great lower-body strength and arm strength as he stood against defenders.Both Long and Mills have become the tandem-pair on the offensive line and look to improve on an already impressive first season. With an injury in the last game against the Green Bay Packers, requiring foot surgery, Mills will have plenty of time to recover over the off-season and be ready to go. The confidence that Cutler has with Mills on his right side speaks volumes of this young man future as a Bear.
LB Jonathan Bostic
Considered one of the best inside linebacker prospects in the 2013 NFL Draft, the Chicago Bears picked Jonathan Bostic of the University of Florida in the second round. In the August preseason game against the San Diego Chargers, Bostic got a chance to show what he could do against the big boys. His initial recognition was his ability to lay out a BOOM-Bostic hit against WR Mike Willie. Though it appeared to be a clean hit, Bostic was still fined $21,000 but it provided the NFL a clear picture of what this future linebacker could do.
In his first year, Bostic played in 16 games, 9 of those games as a starter. He produced only one sack and an interception. However he tallied 45 tackles and 12 assists. Compared to future Hall of Famer and former Bear Brian Urlacher, who in his rookie year racked 8 sacks, 2 INT’s, 101 tackles and 24 assists, Bostic has room for improvement. Bostic lacks quickness of the block, but shows sparks of greatness when he sees a big play.
OLB Khaseem Greene
Khaseem Green out of Rutgers, was drafted in the fourth round by the Bears, the second linebacker taken by the team. He played in 15 games, 4 of those games as a starter in place of injured LB Lance Briggs. In those four games he produced one interception, one forced fumble with 21 tackles and 7 assists. In week 12 against the St. Louis Rams, Greene recorded 6 solo tackles.
He showed tremendous quickness and flexibility against the blitz and can smell a screen play a mile away. He did tend to go for the lower part of the legs on tackles, instead of the waist for a better take-down. Greene missed several tackles because of this and needs to improve if he is going to be an effective linebacker alongside Bostic. He also needs to be more physical in the line of scrimmage. He lacked that in college and it showed on the field. With time he should be a great asset to the Bears defense and will make these adjustments in no time.
RB Michael Ford
After going undrafted in the 2013 NFL Draft from LSU, the Bears signed him on as an additional running back. Though he did not play much in the regular season, he proved as an incredible asset in the Bears first preseason game by breaking three tackles on a 100-yard kickoff return, which set up fellow RB Michael Bush for a 3-yard touchdown against the San Diego Chargers. Ford possesses incredible speed and power when given the opportunity.
Bears may consider using him more in the return game and mix it up between Devin Hester and Eric Weems. He filled in a few times, but did not gain much yardage. Hopefully we will see more of Ford in 2014 as the Bears reassess their special teams package.
DE Cornelius Washington
A sixth round draft pick out of Georgia, Cornelius Washington was to add depth in the Chicago defense. He did not play much during regular season but during practices showed the potential of being an attack pass rusher with his hand on the ground or standing up. He seems to get gassed out easily so will need to work on building stamina so that he can change direction quicker in the backfield. It is hard to grade him based on only two games and minimal playing time, so I won't attempt to.