Bears

Mullin's 2011 draft capsules: Offensive line

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Mullin's 2011 draft capsules: Offensive line

Thursday, April 28, 2011Posted: 12:00 AM

by John Mullin
CSNChicago.com
Fourth in a series
The Chicago offensive line took some time to settle in during 2010. New players, new coaches, new scheme, injuries the Bears would like those difficulties to be behind them. But the chances of the same starting five that finished 2010 also beginning 2011 in the same places are remote, and the draft could figure into that.

The Bears

Veteran center Olin Kreutz is a virtual lock to return after a free-agent offseason that may never completely get started, given the labor difficulties. The closer the regular season gets, the more the Bears need Kreutzs veteran presence in the middle and the less a new team will be inclined to bring in a 34-year-old from another offense.

Roberto Garza still works at right guard and amply proved his value (again) last season following lost time with a knee injury.

JMarcus Webb is virtually a lock as a starting tackle but right or left is undecided and could hinge on what is acquired via the draft. The Chris Williams Experience at guard appears over based on neither Jerry Angelo nor Lovie Smith committing to where Williams will play after seeing him most of last season at guard. Williams best NFL play arguably came at right tackle in the waning games of 2009 and his future is more likely outside rather than inside.

Frank Omiyale, who filled in at left tackle after Williams was injured early last season and held onto the job, did not secure the position and may be out of the starting lineup altogether after starting at three positions in two years.

There is some depth in the form of Lance Louis and Edwin Williams but neither held onto starting jobs when they had them last year.

Need: Perhaps the single biggest need area overall, both because of quality and quantity. The organization has invested little draft capital on the offensive line, relying heavily on free agency through the past decade. That must change starting at the end of this month.

The 2011 draft

The draft potentially lines up very well for the Bears to address the offensive line, particularly in the first round. The 2011 draft class is considered spectacularly deep at defensive end, a position the Bears will always strengthen with a pass rusher. But with as many as 15 first-round talents on the defensive line, the Bears may benefit from one or two quality offensive linemen being on the board when their turn comes at No. 29.

Its pretty good for interior offensive linemen, said ESPNs Mike Mayock, and you dont have to get them in the first round.

But can you get them late in the second round? That is a decision that could face the Bears, who also want to fortify defensive tackle. And if the Bears do choose to wait, or trade down out of round one, it is decidedly unclear whether the talent is such that immediate impact can come below round one.

That said, a rookie starter on the offensive line has traditionally been the exception rather than the rule, Pittsburgh Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey notwithstanding. Pounceys brother Mike is in the upcoming draft but chances of him lasting until No. 29 are virtually non-existent.

The Best Bets:

(In the interest of relevance, because tackles Tyron Smith and Anthony Castonzo, and Mike Pouncey are expected to be gone, CSNChicago.coms ranking picks up after those three)

1. Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin He declared himself the best offensive linemen in this years draft, so swagger wont be a problem. The Bears paid close attention to him during the Badgers Pro Day but he is likely gone by No. 29.
2. Nate Solder, Colorado Like Carimi, Solder is a tackle and his landing in Chicago could send Chris Williams back inside to compete for playing time. A huge figure potentially in the Big Cat Williams tradition.

3. Danny Watkins, Baylor Perhaps the best true guard in the class. Watkins is a former firefighter so he comes into the NFL a few years later than ideal, but he is a physical, instant-starter type inside. Watkins or Georgias Clint Boling would settle the Bears left guard issue.

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.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: How hot is John Fox's seat?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: How hot is John Fox's seat?

Seth Gruen (Bleacher Report/”Big Ten Unfiltered” podcast), Chris Emma (670TheScore.com) and Matt Zahn (CBS 2) join Kap on the panel. If the Bears lose badly to the Lions, should Sunday be John Fox’s last game? 

Plus Bulls Insider Vincent Goodwill joins the panel to talk Bulls as well as the Niko/Portis cold war.

Listen to the full SportsTalk Live Podcast right here:

Collecting some final thoughts on if Tarik Cohen isn't getting enough snaps for the Bears

Collecting some final thoughts on if Tarik Cohen isn't getting enough snaps for the Bears

John Fox on Friday sought to clarify some comments he made earlier in the week about Tarik Cohen that seemed to follow some spurious logic. Here’s what Fox said on Wednesday when asked if he’d like to see Cohen be more involved in the offensive game plan:

“You’re looking at one game,” Fox said, referencing Cohen only playing 13 of 60 snaps against the Green Bay Packers. “Sometimes the defense dictates who gets the ball. I think from a running standpoint it was a game where we didn’t run the ball very effectively. I think we only ran it 17 times. I believe Jordan Howard, being the fifth leading rusher in the league, probably commanded most of that. I think he had 15 carries. 

“It’s a situation where we’d like to get him more touches, but it just didn’t materialize that well on that day. But I’d remind people that he’s pretty high up there in both punt returns, he’s our leading receiver with 29 catches, so it’s not like we don’t know who he is.”

There were some clear holes to poke in that line of reasoning, since the question wasn’t about Cohen’s touches, but his snap count. Cohen creates matchup problems when he’s on the field for opposing defenses, who can be caught having to double-team him (thus leaving a player uncovered, i.e. Kendall Wright) or matching up a linebacker against him (a positive for the Bears). The ball doesn’t have to be thrown Cohen’s way for his impact to be made, especially if he’s on the field at the same time as Howard. 

“They don’t know who’s getting the ball, really, and they don’t know how to defend it properly,” Howard said. “… It definitely can dictate matchups.”

There are certain scenarios in which the Bears don’t feel comfortable having Cohen on the field, like in third-and-long and two-minute drills, where Benny Cunningham’s veteran experience and pass protection skills are valued. It may be harder to create a mismatch or draw a double team with Cohen against a nickel package. It's easier to justify leaving a 5-foot-6 running back on the sidelines in those situations. 

But if the Bears need Cohen to be their best playmaker, as offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said last month, they need to find a way for him to be on the field more than a shade over one in every five plays. As Fox explained it on Friday, though, it’s more about finding the right spots for Cohen, not allowing opposing defenses to dictate when he’s on the field. 

“We have Tarik Cohen out there, we're talking about touches, not play time, we're talking about touches so if they double or triple cover him odds are the ball is not going to him, in fact we'd probably prefer it didn’t,” Fox said. “So what I meant by dictating where the ball goes, that's more related to touches than it is play time. I just want to make sure I clarify that. So it's not so much that they dictate personnel to you. Now if it's in a nickel defense they have a certain package they run that may create a bad matchup for you, that might dictate what personnel group you have out there not just as it relates to Tarik Cohen but to your offense in general. You don't want to create a bad matchup for your own team. I hope that makes sense.”

There’s another wrinkle here, though, that should be addressed: Loggains said this week that defenses rarely stick to the tendencies they show on film when Cohen is on the field. That’s not only a problem for Cohen, but it’s a problem for Mitchell Trubisky, who hasn’t always had success against defensive looks he hasn’t seen on film before. And if the Bears are trying to minimize the curveballs Trubisky sees, not having Cohen on the field for a high volume of plays would be one way to solve that. 

This is also where the Bears’ lack of offensive weapons factors in. Darren Sproles, who Cohen will inexorably be linked to, didn’t play much as a rookie — but that was on a San Diego Chargers team that had LaDanian Tomlinson, Keenan McCardell and Antonio Gates putting up big numbers. There were other options on that team; the Bears have a productive Howard and a possibly-emerging Dontrelle Inman, but not much else. 

So as long as Cohen receives only a handful of snaps on a team with a paucity of playmakers, this will continue to be a topic of discussion. Though if you’re looking more at the future of the franchise instead of the short-term payoffs, that we’re having a discussion about a fourth-round pick not being used enough is a good thing.