All Eyes Will be on Offensive Line...................
All eyes on Bears' O-line
Can revamped group perform well enough for Martz's offense to shine?
Offensive linemen Chris Spencer, Roberto Garza, Chris Williams and Lance Louis. (Phil Velasquez, Chicago Tribune / September 8, 2011)
By Brad Biggs, Chicago Tribune reporter 9:13 p.m. CDT, September 8, 2011
A solid preseason has provided the Bears with reason for optimism, but it's no reason to believe the No. 1 concern of the offseason has been resolved.
The revamped offensive line will make its debut Sunday against the Falcons at Soldier Field, and the Bears know they won't be a better team if they're not improved in the trenches.
A league-high 56 sacks surrendered in 2010 will stick with the line until it proves it's a different bunch. It's impossible to stick all of those statistics on the line. Tight ends, running backs and quarterbacks all played a role in shoddy pass protection. Offensive coordinator Mike Martz was responsible for reckless play calling, specifically in a 10-sack meltdown against the Giants when Jay Cutler suffered a concussion.
That poses a good question no one can answer yet. Will the Bears pick up where they left off last year as a balanced offense? Or will pass-happy Martz return? Seven-step drops are a staple of his scheme and they're needed for multiple breaking routes to get downfield. The idea is for Cutler to plant his foot on the seventh step and deliver the ball. If the Bears can block, Martz's genius can shine. His route schemes are intricate and with protection, options are seemingly unlimited.
"I expect to be how we were during the middle of the season when we started to run the ball," running back Matt Forte said. "And it'll be a balanced attack."
The offense improved as the season went along, allowing an average of 4.4 sacks through the first seven games and 2.8 in the final nine. But left guard Chris Williams is the only player who will start where he finished 2010. The Bears will face John Abraham, who with 1021/2 sacks is second among active players, and the Falcons bulked up their defensive line by signing former Vikings left end Ray Edwards. Kroy Biermann could be poised for a breakout season.
"There's going to be a lot more intensity," new center Roberto Garza said. "I know we're going to go out there and perform. We're still a long way off from where we need to be. It's exciting for us to prove everyone wrong."
Cutler threw 42 passes in the final two exhibition games he played in against the Giants and Titans and was sacked just once on a play in New York when he should have thrown the ball away. But it's not realistic to expect that kind of smooth running now that defenses are scheming to attack the Bears. Left tackle J'Marcus Webb will be tested from the start. As solid as Gabe Carimi has been, he's a rookie who will be challenged. Lance Louis has four career starts at right guard.
"We're going to have some bumps in the road, probably the first game just getting them settled down and comfortable," Cutler said. "But I've got all the faith in the world in them. They are a very talented group. We have some older guys and some younger guys. They are going to have to learn as it goes. But they are all we've got, so we have to go with them."
Atlanta's offensive line was its top offseason concern. Right tackle Tyson Clabo and guards Justin Blalock and Harvey Dahl all entered free agency, making Falcons coach Mike Smith and quarterback Matt Ryan nervous. Smith said the Falcons made the best of a challenging situation by re-signing Clabo and Blalock. But right guard Garrett Reynolds isn't the only new starter. Center Todd McClure will not play Sunday as he recovers from arthroscopic knee surgery. He'll be replaced by Joe Hawley.
"Of all the position groups, the offensive line is the one that has to have the most continuity," Smith said. "We call the defensive line a unit, we call the linebackers a unit. (The offensive line) is, truly of all the positions on a football team, the one that has to be in concert with one another in terms of not only blocking in the run game but pass protection as well. When you can have continuity there, it definitely enhances your chances of protecting your quarterback and that's the No. 1 priority for us."
The Bears don't have any continuity, though the only significant addition this season is one draft pick.
"I'm anxious to see us play, find out where we are with that," Martz said. "I'm excited about what they've done so far. I think they have a chance to be a pretty good group."
My question is, "will Mike Martz help his offense or hurt his offense with his playcalling"? Specifically, will he stay away for 7 step drops unless it comes out of play action and can he improve upon his abyssmal record of scoring TD's when were inside the ten yard line.
If he can put together game plans that mix in enough run and short zone passing to allow his downfield game to get untracked good but if he starts our with that in mind like he did last season that Oline will crack. The strength they showed all preseason was in the running game so right now take advantage of that. We haver two very good backs in Forte and Bell and we need to make defenses respect our running game. Too bad Barber is still nursing that injury. I hope it's not gonna be like this all season long. He's the guy we need on those tough third and short plays and on the goaline.
It's good to hear Cutler express his confidence in the line but doesn't it seem like he's whistling in the dark just a bit when he says, "But they're all we've got, so we have to go with them". Yep, you really nailed that one on the head. OMG, EWill and Spencer as backups don't exactly instill much confidence if injuries start to mount. It's here and at LB where we're most vulnerable and even one key injury could ruin a good season. Let's keep our fingers crossed all of these guys stay healthy and that they grown into a cohesive top notch unit as the season progresses.
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