Bears

How will Bears O-line shake out against Falcons?

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How will Bears O-line shake out against Falcons?

Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011Posted: 10:30 a.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com Bears Insider Follow @CSNMoonMullin
Its really kind of difficult to tell whether Jay Cutler is pleased with or has serious reservations about his offensive line going into a game that matters.

Were going to have a few bumps in the road, Im sure this year, with those guys, probably the first game, Cutler said. Just getting them settled down and comfortable. But I have all the faith in the world in them. Theyre a very talented group. Got some older guys and some younger guys. Theyre going to have to learn as they go.

But theyre all weve got, so we got to go with them.

Not a complete hug, but

In any case, you do have to love the simplicity of a rookie.

Gabe Carimi was the Bears No. 1 move since the end of last season to address the offensive line. The only move, really, other than signing backup center Chris Spencer.

Now Carimi is just a matter of hours away from starting to truly show whether the Bears money and first-round draft choice was well spent. Hell face Atlanta Falcons defensive ends John Abraham and Ray Edwards, who accounted for 21 sacks in 2010, Abrahams 13 with the Falcons and Edwards 8 with the Minnesota Vikings on the other end from Jared Allen.

As the Bears do with Israel Idonije and Julius Peppers, the Falcons flip-flop their ends. Carimi has a simple approach to his first NFL game, not obsessing with the details.

Im going to be cool and collected, Carimi said. Thats my plan.

Line coach Mike Tice would like the same mindset for his whole unit. The offensive line has been perhaps the most scrutinized area of the Bears since the middle of the 2010 season. It was during the draft, training camp and it still is.

The Atlanta offense has firepower, starting with quarterback Matt Ryan and including running back Michael Turner and receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones. But the Falcons, while ranking just 27th in passing yards allowed and rushing average, ranked fifth in the NFL in points allowed.

They play hard, play fast, and theyre really disciplined, said Chris Williams, at left guard now but at right tackle in 2009 when the Bears faced the Falcons.

Center Roberto Garza has more years of experience (10) than the other four offensive line starters combined (6). But the same five were intact for the opening snap of every preseason game except for Garza being given the night off against Cleveland.

Sick bay

The Bears had the good fortune last season to face a number of opponents who were without a key player or two. The Atlanta Falcons are without starting center Todd McClure Sunday, a situation that the Bears need to exploit to get disruption of the Atlanta run game and Matt Ryans pass protection.

Week 2 opponent New Orleans will be without No. 1 wide receiver Marques Colston after he suffered a broken collarbone expected to sideline him for at least four weeks.

But the Falcons will have the advantage of facing a Bears team without Marion Barber, No. 2 on the depth chart, but projected to be a crucial part of the Bears running game and red-zone offense.

Moneyball

Matt Fortes ears unquestionably perked up Saturday. The Minnesota Vikings agreed with running back Adrian Peterson on a seven-year contract worth potentially worth 100 million. More important, the deal reportedly includes 36 million guaranteed, according to ESPNs Adam Schefter.

Peterson, like Forte, was heading into the final year of his rookie contract. Forte has been offered a contract with more than 11 million guaranteed but that was not deemed adequate by the Forte camp. Now, after the deals for Peterson and Tennessees Chris Johnson (56 million, 30 million guaranteed), the market for Forte would appear to have taken a significant tick up.

Just mentioning

The Green Bay Packers are the gimme pick to do great things again in 2011. But the NFC has had 10 different champions in the last 10 years. As Im noted before, only four of the last 10 Super Bowl champions even won their division the following season

Fun to see this week that Rex Grossman was being named as the starting quarterback for the Washington Redskins. The last time the Atlanta Falcons played in Soldier Field (2005) marked the return of Grossman, whod missed the first 13 games of the season with an injury.

He replaced Kyle Orton at halftime, a move that a former Bear told CSNChicago.com the players were not behind, believing that Orton had gotten them to a good place even as a rookie, and some felt that the Bears wouldve done better than lose in the first round of the playoffs with Orton instead of Grossman.

Which also is a reminder that Lovie Smith and the Bears have had four winning seasons in the past six and done it with three different starting quarterbacks (Grossman, Orton, Jay Cutler).

And finally

The concern that the Bears cannot score with the apparent class of the NFC the Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints and, of more immediate relevance, the Falcons isnt a good enough reason to pick against a team that has traditionally opened its seasons well under Lovie Smith.

Too much attention is being paid to comparing the Bears offense to Atlantas, which is never completely relevant (Jay Cutler vs. Aaron Rodgers -- ? theyre never on the field at the same time). What is relevant to me is that running back Michael Turner, the No. 3 rusher in the NFC, was held under 50 rushing yards four times and the Falcons lost three of those games.

That isnt a guarantee of success, but it shows that one part of that offense can be shut down, and your chances of winning then rise exponentially.

The NFL has structured its game to support the pass; ironically, if the Bears approach a game with a pass-first mindset against a team with an offense like Atlantas, however, they will lose.

But more than one Bear, including quarterback Jay Cutler, has alluded to the understanding that balance worked for the Bears last year and is expected to again. The Lovie Smith Bears are good learners.

And so

BEARS 21 ATLANTA 20

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 grade: B+

Level of need: Low

Decisions to be made on: Christian Jones (free agent), John Timu (free agent), Jonathan Anderson (free agent); Jerrell Freeman has reportedly been cut

Possible free agent targets: Demario Davis, Preston Brown, Anthony Hitchens, Avery Williamson, Navorro Bowman, Derrick Johnson

How the Bears rate Nick Kwiatkoski will be the key to figuring out what this unit will look like in 2018. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio thought Kwiatkoski finished last season strong, but strong enough to rely on him in 2018 as the starter next to Danny Trevathan?

The thing with the Bears’ inside linebackers, though: Trevathan makes whoever is playing next to him better. The problem is Trevathan hasn’t been able to stay on the field — he missed time in 2017 with a calf injury and a one-game suspension, and missed half of 2016 after rupturing his Achilles’. Trevathan hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2013, so durability is an issue for the soon-to-be 28-year-old.

So that leads to this question: Do the Bears need to find someone in free agency, regardless of how they value Kwiatkoski, who’s also missed time due to injuries in his first two years in the league?

Free agency could provide a few options. Demario Davis had a career high 97 tackles for the New York Jets last year and has never missed a game as a pro. Preston Brown had some decent production in Buffalo and also hasn’t missed a game since being drafted in 2014. Avery Williamson may not be a world-beater but has only missed one game in his four years in the NFL.

The Bears could also opt for someone who fits more of a rotational mold, like Dallas’ Anthony Hitchens, or try to lure a veteran linebacker like Navorro Bowman (who played for Vic Fangio in San Francisco) or Derrick Johnson (who Matt Nagy knows from his Kansas City days) to play next to Trevathan and/or Kwiatkoski.

The Bears could opt to keep the status quo and re-sign Christian Jones and John Timu for depth, and enter 2018 with Kwiatkoski and Trevathan as the team’s starters (Jerrell Freeman, who suffered a season-ending injury and then was hit with his second PED suspension in as many years, was cut on Tuesday). Signing a starting-caliber free agent isn’t out of the question, either, but there is a third option for the Bears if they appear to stand pat in free agency: Draft an inside linebacker in April. If that’s the route they go, Georgia’s Roquan Smith could be the guy. But again, those more pressing needs at other positions could mean the Bears don’t burn a first-round pick on an inside linebacker.

With Josh Sitton on his way out, what’s next for the Bears’ offensive line?

With Josh Sitton on his way out, what’s next for the Bears’ offensive line?

The first major move of Ryan Pace’s 2018 offseason hit on Tuesday, as NFL Network reported the Bears will not exercise Josh Sitton’s $8 million option for 2018. 

The move accomplishes two things for the Bears: 1) It frees up about $8 million in cap space and 2) Removes a veteran from the offensive line and creates a hole to fill, presumably by a younger free agent or draft pick. 

The 31-year-old Sitton signed a three-year deal with the Bears after Green Bay cut him just before the 2016 season, and was a Pro Bowler his first year in Chicago. Sitton played 26 of 32 games in two years with the Bears, but him being on the wrong side of 30 was likely the biggest factor here. If the Bears saw his skills eroding, releasing him now and netting the cap savings while going younger at the position does make sense. 

“Going younger” doesn’t guarantee the Bears will draft Notre Dame brawler Quenton Nelson, though that did become a greater possibility with Tuesday’s move. Nelson might be one of the two or three best offensive players in this year’s draft, and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand knows him well from the four years they spent together at Notre Dame. 

There’s a natural fit there, of course, but a few reasons to slow the Nelson-to-Chicago hype train: Would he even make it to No. 8? Or if he’s there, is taking a guard that high worth it when the Bears have needs at wide receiver, outside linebacker and cornerback? Still, the thought of Nelson — who absolutely dominated at Notre Dame — pairing with Hiestand again is tantalizing, and Nelson very well could step into any team’s starting lineup and be an immediate Pro Bowler as a rookie. 

If the Bears go younger in free agency, Matt Nagy knows 26-year-old guard Zach Fulton (No. 25 in Bleacher Report’s guard rankings) well from their time in Kansas City. Fulton — a Homewood-Flossmoor alum — has the flexibility to play both guard positions and center, which could open the door for Cody Whitehair to be moved to left guard, the position he was initially drafted to play (though the Bears do value him highly as a center, and keeping him at one position would benefit him as opposed to moving him around the line again). There are some other guys out there — like Tennessee’s Josh Kline or New York’s Justin Pugh — that could wind up costing more than Fulton in free agency. 

Or the Bears could look draft an offensive lineman after the first round, perhaps like Ohio State’s Billy Price, Georgia’s Isaiah Wynn or UTEP’s Will Hernandez. How the Bears evaluate guards at the NFL Combine next week will play an important role in how they go about replacing Sitton. 

The trickle-down effect of releasing Sitton will impact more than the offensive line, too. Freeing up his $8 million in cap space -- which wasn't a guarantee, unlike cutting Jerrell Freeman and, at some point, Mike Glennon -- could go toward paying Kyle Fuller, or another top cornerback, or a top wide receiver, or some combination of players at those positions (as well as outside linebacker). The Bears were already in a healthy place cap-wise; that just got healthier on Tuesday.