With apologies to Earl Bennett — who reportedly refused a pay cut that would have kept the 2013 offense completely intact heading into this season — the Bears still are enjoying unprecedented continuity on the league’s No. 2 scoring unit last year.
Nowhere is that continuity more impressive than along the offensive line, where after years of instability, the Bears were one of three teams in the NFL to have the same starting combination up front for all 16 games. They expect to return the same starting five for the first time since 2007, the year after their last Super Bowl appearance.
In a league of attrition and turnover, the rarity of Chicago’s O-line staying healthy in 2013, then general manager Phil Emery managing to re-sign 40 percent of the group in the offseason, isn’t lost on sixth-year veteran left guard Matt Slauson.
“This is exciting,” said Slauson, who, ironically, discussed continuity at Tuesday’s first OTA (organized team activity) immediately after fielding questions about his surprising absence. (Slauson is rehabbing from offseason shoulder surgery, as reported by the Chicago Tribune, but told reporters he expects to be ready by training camp at the latest.)
“This is the first time in my career where all five guys have stayed the same. … Hopefully we can build off all the progress we made last year.” Slauson added that having key backups like Eben Britton and Taylor Boggs is “huge.”
The newness of cohesion isn’t exclusive to just Slauson. Running back Matt Forte echoed his blocker’s sentiments on the luxury of already established chemistry helping in sustaining the offense’s success.
“I think that’s the first time that’s ever happened in my career, so it’s pretty cool to see everybody, the exact same offense come back, the whole starting offense be there,” Forte said. “The camaraderie of it just makes us play that much better together.”
The return of all of the offensive personnel is certainly by design. Emery has so radically reshaped the defense that it can be easy to gloss over his diligence in keeping the offensive core intact with myriad re-signings, including Slauson, Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall and Roberto Garza, to name a few.
Although Slauson, Forte and others have said the focus remains on continued improvement, it’s natural to wonder if coach Marc Trestman has any concerns over complacency setting in.
“I don’t want to say there’s a comfort level, but there’s not a complacent level with how we’re handling things,” said Trestman at the conclusion of Chicago’s rookie minicamp. “… but there certainly is a sense of confidence, a sense that we’ve got a chance to be a very good offense, particularly because those are the guys that have been together, but they’re not taking anything for granted.”
Indeed, the Bears have the makings of one of the best offenses in the league. They also have enough room for improvement that complacency shouldn’t be an option. Chicago’s offense ranked eighth overall a season ago, but just 16th rushing and 19th in goal-to-go situations.
Those are areas Slauson thinks are likely to see improvement because of the unity up front, as well as the strides he expects from Kyle Long and Jordan Mills, now entering their second seasons.
“Offensive line play isn’t necessarily about being extremely athletic or extremely strong – it’s about knowing how to work with the guy next to you,” he said. “We have the ability to pick up where we left off. We just have to make sure we do it because this offense has so much potential.”