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Friday, 12 August 2011

The Season's Bear-ly Started, But Tice Has His 5...

(Chicago Tribune)
56 sacks in a season is horrible. That is how many the Bears offensive line gave up last season, yet still they somehow made it all the way to the NFC Championship game and within an MCLs breadth of making it to the Superbowl. But even with so many things up in the air with the NFL due to the drastically shortened off-season period, the Bears have announced that they have chosen the five offensive linemen they will start with against the Falcons in their regular season opener on September 11th, but why, and will they be any better in 2011 than they were in 2010?

 “I’ve got, I think right now, the five best guys on the field and we’re going to stay that way until something proves me I’m wrong.” Those were the words of offensive line coach Mike Tice earlier this week. So what differences are there going to be on the line from 2010 to 2011, and is this going to keep Jay Cutler upright and stop him whinging about having a knee boo-boo?

2010 Offensive Line: LT Omiyale – LG Williams – C Kreutz – RG Garza – RT Webb

2011 Offensive Line: LT Webb – LG Williams – C Garza – RG Louis – RT Carimi

Chris Williams
Now admittedly naming 5 guys like this as the Bears 2010 O-line is pretty misleading. They were so banged up and had so many changes forced upon them that it’s hard to say who was really where on the depth chart. However, it’s clear to see that from 2010 to 2011 it’s pretty much all change again. The only player remaining where he did from last year is former 1st round selection Chris Williams at left guard, but this is hardly a positive. When you draft a guy 14th overall, you really expect him to be your left tackle for years to come. He was the 3rd tackle taken in 2008 (behind Jake Long and Ryan Clady – both now considered amongst the elite young offensive linemen in the league), ahead of solid starting tackles like the Chiefs’ Brandon Albert and the Falcons’ Sam Baker; but after struggling on the outside for the Bears, Tice believes Williams’ potential is only as a guard, so that is where he’s been moved to. It’s hardly a fall of Robert Gallery-type proportions, but it’s a disappointment.

Taking the place Chris Williams should be playing, left tackle, is second year player, and former 7th round pick J’Marcus Webb. Webb did well just to earn himself a roster spot last year, but somehow found himself as the starting right tackle for 12 games. He showed promise on the right hand side, and certainly has the bulk to handle even the biggest pass rushing ends (6’7, 333lbs), but on the left side he’ll be facing the best of the best, and he’ll have to demonstrate real quickness and show that he’s progressed significantly from year 1 to 2 if he’s going to look after Jay Cutler’s blindside. At right tackle, rookie 1st round selection Gabe Carimi has slotted in well in Bears camp. He is projected to be a real asset to this Bears line, but only time will tell if he has what it takes to play at the next level.

Gabe Carimi
On the right hand interior of the line is where some questions really have to be raised. Veteran guard Roberto Garza is switching to play centre, and attempting to fill the daunting shoes of recently departed Olin Kreutz. Filling in Garza’s old position is career backup (and another former 7th round pick), Lance Louis. I think it’s impossible to over-estimate what losing Olin Kreutz will do to the interior of this line. Kreutz is a 6 time pro-bowler and NFL 2000-All Decade player. He’s started 183 games for the Bears in his career and his presence in the locker room has been even more impressive than his numbers. Kreutz is the proverbial gel that has kept this team together through thick and thin. Now, he’s a Saint. Whilst Garza is an experienced guy in the league, and has been with the Bears since 2005, the majority of his career has been at guard, and although they don’t look too different to an outsider, the mechanics and technique of playing guard and centre are very very different. If Garza can build a rapport with Jay Cutler then he may well be able to help smooth the transition to a Kreutz-less line in Chicago on the field, but there will still be a lack of presence in terms of personality; a factor which could prove crucial with so many 1st - 3rd year guys on the rest of the line.

Roberto Garza was chosen to front EA Sports'
Madden '09 "En EspaƱol" release
The choice to move Garza to centre opens up three questions for me. 1) Are you happy with who you have to replace him at RG? In Lance Louis you have a perennial second-teamer who has failed to fight his way into the starting lineup even whilst his positional teammates were crippling themselves around him last year. This has to raise an eyebrow. 2) Do you not have a better option at Centre? For instance, Chris Spencer, the former Seattle Seahawk who has played consistently and well in the middle of the line since 2007. He was signed by the Bears on July 31st, theoretically to be Kreutz’s replacement. So is he not ready to step in yet? Has he been lazy over the off-season and let himself get out of shape? If so, these are perfectly valid reasons for not naming him as starter yet, but this brings up the 3rd question: 3) Why name your starting 5 now? We’re still 4 weeks away from week 1 of the regular season, and no-one was putting any pressure on you to name a starter like they do with QB situations (see Denver). Whether it’s a vote of confidence in the 5 you’ve named, an incentive for those left out to fight harder for their positions, or just a bit of coaching smoke and mirrors, it’s an unusual move.

If Garza and Louis can work well together in that Centre-Right Guard partnership, this line has a chance to be vastly improved in 2011. With first round picks at LG and RT, you would hope their performance should be solid at worst, and if J’Marcus Webb’s progression continues on the left side then he should be a significant upgrade over Omiyale. However, since when does anything ever go smoothly? You have a rookie RT, and a 7th round pick at LT, protecting a delicate flower of a QB from the NFC North pass-rushers (no-one special, just Clay Matthews, Jared Allen, and the now insanely talented Detroit Lions D-line). If things don’t work out, or injuries start to set in, this could be a very long season for the men of Midway. Caleb Hanie better start warming up.

- Phil Gaskin (@sosayitisaid)
- The Pulling Linemen

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