Chicago Bears Training Camp Position Battles: Offensive Line

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J'Marcus Webb

 

Much like the wide receiving corps, the Bear’s offensive line has been a enigma for years. But unlike the receiving corps, no major moves were made in the offseason to improve the unit.

 

I was in the school of thought that the best move the Bears could make, outside of signing a Pro-Bowl caliber o-lineman, would be to stand pat and let the current players grow together.

 

But a 31-3 loss in the preseason opener with most of the blame falling on the offensive line seems to rebut that thought with a resounding “think again”.

All we’ve heard from training camp thus far was that Mike Tice’s new offensive system would be much more “lineman-friendly” than Mike Martz’s was by simplifying the passing game and emphasizing the run. And after allowing 105 sacks in Martz’s 2-year stay, that was music to Bears fan’s ears.

 

But the small sample size from Thursday shows every quarterback under duress, a total of 6 sacks allowed, and a net gain of only 36 yards on the ground.

 

Compound that with the fact that starting left tackle and left guard J’Marcus Webb and Chris Spencer were taking snaps well into the 4th quarter, it is more than clear that the line as a whole has plenty of work left to do.

 

The only position battle that remains on the line is at left tackle. Ironically, this battle was “resolved” about 2 weeks ago when it appeared Webb had beat out Chris Williams for the job.

 

But it seems that Thursday’s performance has hit the reset button for left tackle. At the past few practices, Chris Williams has been splitting time at left tackle with the first team while still taking some reps at right tackle.

 

Williams, a former first round pick in 2008, has struggled with injuries and has never had a defined role on the Bears. This year he projected to be the teams swing tackle, taking snaps at either tackle spot.

 

But come Saturday against the Redskins, we may see Williams to start the game if he can show the consistency that Webb couldn’t during this week of practice.

 

Week 3 of the preseason will be the biggest indicator of who’s winning the battle since the starters treat the game as a dry run for the regular season. Not to mention the Giants have one of the best pass rushing defenses in the NFL. Both Webb and Williams will have a lot to prove between now and then.

 

On the other side of the line, Gabe Carimi has firmly entrenched himself as the starter. As a first round pick last year, Carimi came out of camp as the starting right tackle. He then struggled with knee injuries which sidelined him for the final 14 games of the season.

 

There are still some concerns with the knee, but Carimi’s vigorous rehab and performance during camp has won him the job. Other than Webb, Williams, and Carimi, only James Brown appears to be vying for time at the tackle spots.

 

Brown is an undrafted rookie who played his college football at Troy. But standing 6’4” and weighing 306 lbs, this 24 year old is a physical specimen, and the Chicago native has impressed the coaching staff enough to push him up the depth chart to second string.

 

The starters on the interior of the line will be Chris Spencer, Lance Louis, and long time Bear Roberto Garza. This unit run blocks better than it pass protects, but there are no glaring weaknesses on the inside.

 

Spencer’s (and Webb’s) appearance in the second half of Thursday’s game would seem to be a major red flag. But many are speculating that this move was made to try to embarrass the starting lineman and give them emotional fuel to use for the future. We’ll see about that.

 

The only other player who figures to factor in on the inside is Edwin Williams, who has started 8 games over the past 2 years for the Bears.

 

But one name to look out for is A.J. Greene, a guard from Auburn who went undrafted this year. Greene has gone from an injury-plagued fringe prospect who’s struggled with SEC defensive linemen to a 3rd string lineman with a legitimate chance to make the final rotation.

 

Going into the 2011 season, the Bears kept 8 offensive lineman. Counting up those I just mentioned, that would make 8 again this year. But no matter how many they keep, they all must improve if the Bears are to succeed.

 

The team’s success is tied to that of the offensive line. Period. The Bears may have their most talented offense in decades, but if Cutler doesn’t have time in the pocket and lanes aren’t opened for Matt Forte, it doesn’t matter who’s running routes or calling plays. And if the offense has short series too often, the defense will be overtaxed due to being on the field for too long.

 

I’m not about to overreact to the first preseason game and call for everyone’s head. Not only was that the first game action any player has seen, but the Broncos do have a formidable pass rush. And this was a better showing than 2011’s preseason opener where J’Marcus Webb admitted he wasn’t treating it like a real game.

 

I’ll save my overreacting for week 3. Next up, I’ll break down the incredibly young group at safety.

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