At last, time for settling OL is at hand
No position group has undergone the scrutiny and criticism as the Bears offensive line over the past several seasons. It has fused them together with an us-against-the-world mindset, not necessarily a bad thing, and sent them as a group into a brutal, grueling private workout program all this off-season.
No position group will undergo anything close to the monitoring that the line will experience in this training camp. Job competitions will play out and players already in place are intent on demonstrating that the first 10 games of 2011, particularly games 6-10, were the true measure of their group and not the final six.
Despite the doubters, the organization deemed its front-five situation such that it elected not to address the line in the draft, opting for help elsewhere while making coaching changes to the offensive staff that included coordinator, line coach and quarterbackspassing-game coach.
Weve got some talented guys up there, Jay Cutler said. Its just a matter of finding which five and plugging them in there for an extended amount of time so they can get to know each other.
2011 in review
For the offensive line, the season virtually unfolded in three stages. The first three games were marked by a backsliding into then-coordinator Mike Martzs scheming in the pass game that saw Cutler sacked 14 times combined against Atlanta, New Orleans and Green Bay, that last of which saw Matt Forte carry nine times for two total yards.
Mike Tices involvement in game planning was increased, Lovie Smith ordered a move toward balance and the Bears went recovered to go on a five-game win streak to rebound from 2-3 to 7-3. Cutler was sacked five times total in those five wins.
After Cutlers injury, problems escalated with Hanie taking no fewer than four sacks in any of his four starts and Josh McCown finishing the year sacked seven times in Minnesota.
The offensive line was vilified but was forced to field five different starting lines in the first six games because of a knee injury to Gabe Carimi, ankle injury to Lance Louis and poor play by Frank Omiyale. Chris Williams settled in at left guard before he was lost for the season with a wrist injury, replaced by Edwin Williams.
In the end the Bears had rushed for 2,015 yards, just the second time with 2,000 yards over the past 21 seasons. Three different running backs posted 100-yard games (Forte, Marion Barber, Kalil Bell). Cutler was sacked an average of 2.3 times per game, slightly better than the league average.
2012 Training Camp What to Watch
LT: JMarcus WebbChris Williams
LG: Chris SpencerRicky Henry
C: Roberto GarzaEdwin Williams
RG: Lance LouisChilo Rachal
RT: Gabe Carimi
Notable free agents: Cory Brandon, James Brown
The competition at left tackle will be the most closely watched position of training camp. Webb moved from right to left tackle when camp opened last year, meaning he had no off-season at the position. He failed to secure the spot and was among the leagues worst at sacks allowed and false starts.
Williams was drafted in 2008 to be the left tackle. He was there to open the 2010 season, struggled and was moved to left guard five games into the year after returning from a hamstring injury.
Both Webb and Williams have been starters at right and left tackle. The Bears have felt all off-season that whoever wins the No. 1 job leaves a better-than-average swing tackle.
Mike Tice termed Carimi the Bears best offensive linemen before the rookie went down in week two with a knee injury. The question with Carimi now becomes durability and how well his knee holds up. Expect the Bears to be cautious with his return but they also need hard answers, and soon.
Were excited about Gabe Carimi will bring, coach Lovie Smith said. We talk adding pieces and I look at him as a free agent were adding to the mix. Hes a first-round draft pick who barely played for us last year.
Louis filled in admirably at right tackle last season after securing the starting right guard job in camp. But Louis lost that job in 2010 and is not a given this year. The Bears signed Rachal, a former starter for San Francisco, and Rachal is a bigger, stronger, more proven option at guard.
Chris Spencers preferred position may be center (he was signed to replace Olin Kreutz initially) but he is a smart, disciplined player with as much experience at guard at this point in his career. The Bears list him as a centerguard but Edwin Williams has been working as backup to Garza, a Pro Bowl alternate last season, and Spencer was solid as a replacement for Louis in week two last season.
At last, time for settling OL is at hand