Tonight Focus on the Bears Offensive Line: Can They Protect?
Focus on Bears offensive line: Can they protect QB?
RICK TELANDER firstname.lastname@example.org August 21, 2011 9:48PM
http://www.suntimes.com/csp/cms/site...YPE=image/jpegCHICAGO, IL - AUGUST 13: Jay Cutler #6 of the Chicago Bears drops back to pass against the Buffalo Bills during a preseason game at Soldier Field on August 13, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) R:\Merlin\Getty_Photos\121088013.jpg
Updated: August 22, 2011 2:09AM
Some years ago, NFL snobs said it was a sign of ‘‘football intelligence’’ to watch offensive linemen during a game, not the quarterback or even the movement of the ball. Follow the guards to enlightenment! was the snooty cry. I did, and I found darkness and slop. Like focusing on a pigsty.
Watch the quarterback and follow the ball, for God’s sake! That’s why Johnny Unitas invented the game!
Nevertheless, on Monday night, I’m going to focus, contrary to logic and the rules of pleasure and self-fulfillment, on the Bears’ offensive line as it plays the Giants in preseason Game 2 at the New Meadowlands.
Every Bears snap, if possible, I’ll keep my eyes riveted on the guys with the unattractive numbers from 50 to 79. For there is something very wrong with this group. I don’t know if it starts with the guards or the tackles or the critical center position, but blocking for and protecting quarterback Jay Cutler — and the running backs — are not what this group does best. Sometimes not even at all. So will you all come with me — one time — and follow the swine and see who grunts?
Think of it — Cutler was sacked in the first series in the first preseason game against the Bills. The bottom-feeding Bills’ defensive line looked stellar and former Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman looked like he was back on ’roids with a six-pack of Red Bull in his belly.
Cutler was yanked fast, but his 2011 preseason stats are one pass completed in one attempt for zero yards, with one sack. This is a script not for winning football, but a splatter movie. Cutler was sacked a league-leading 52 times last season. Then he was wounded in the NFC title game and stood on the sideline so blank-faced and detached that he could only have been pondering his physical and mental well-being in offensive coordinator Mike Martz’s shoot-the-clown-from-the-cannon offense.
Cutler will not survive another 52-sack season. Believe that. Carve it on your Dick Butkus lawn jockey. Consider that league-leading Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was sacked 25 times in 2010, the Colts’ Peyton Manning only 16. And so a group that only severe football geeks enjoy talking about, let alone observing — the O-line —has become the focus that it never should’ve been.
What did the Bears do in the offseason to shore up a group that includes tackles Frank Omiyale and J’Marcus Webb and guards Chris Williams, Lance Louis and Roberto Garza? They drafted allegedly ferocious Gabe Carimi out of Wisconsin, the so-named ‘‘Bear Jew,’’ who may someday be a left-tackle stud. Or not. (The way to find out is not to let Cutler be the crash-test dummy during B-J’s learning years.)
Irreplaceable? And the Bears got rid of longtime anchor and feisty leader Olin Kreutz.
Garza, once a high school National Honor Society member and little-college All-America center for tiny Texas A&M-Kingsville, will replace Kreutz at center. But truly replace him? That’s a long, tall order. More of a prayer, actually.
It’s not easy to have a cohesive, solid offensive line. The units come together gradually and with stealth, the way an elephant herd comes together before a stampede.
‘‘Playing O-line, you have to take your ego, put it in your back pocket and zip it up,’’ former Bears offensive tackle Jimbo Covert told me awhile back. ‘‘When you win, you had nothing to do with it. Lose, it’s all your fault. You play against first- and second-down defensive linemen, third-down rushers, specialists coming in and out for 70 or so plays, and if you’re successful 68 times, with two plays being a sack and a tackle-for-loss, you failed.’’
Whew. That’s a rough job description. Makes being a garbage collector sound like a career upgrade. But the offensive line is so critical to a football team’s success that the Bears will live or die this season behind theirs. A jell of a task
Maybe Cutler holds the ball too long, maybe the group is just ‘‘jelling,’’ as we like to say, maybe the wide receivers stink. Maybe Martz makes it too hard for the big fellows.
Whatever, let’s watch the porkers this one time and see what we can see.
Then we can shower and watch the ball forever and ever.