Bears expect offensive line improvement from within
Bears expect offensive line improvement from within With offensive line, what you see is likely what you're going to get
By Brad Biggs, Chicago Tribune reporter
4:06 p.m. CDT, April 7, 2012
Jay Cutler chuckled when he was asked if he expects the pass protection to improve with Mike Tice now directing the Bears' offense.
"Hope so," the quarterback said when he was finished laughing. "It's going to. It will. We're headed in the right direction. I know that."
There was nothing funny about the protection over the last two seasons as the Bears led the NFL with 105 sacks allowed.
The huge number is one the Bears, without saying as much, largely have pinned on former offensive coordinator Mike Martz. He relied heavily on seven-step drops and often left the line with little help in a boom-or-bust approach that too often led the quarterbacks to dust themselves off after being toppled.
But to place all the fault on Martz would be unfair. With so many sacks there must be plenty of blame to go around.
Despite calls from the fan base to invest in linemen, the club has yet to do so almost four weeks into free agency. Most signs point to the Bears looking for help on defense in the early rounds of the NFL draft that begins April 26, although it's impossible to rule out help for the line.
But drafting 19th overall, the Bears are unlikely to have a left tackle fall in their laps. They don't have a need for another right tackle with Gabe Carimi, last year's first-round pick, returning. It's uncommon for interior linemen to be drafted that high. But it's still possible the franchise goes in that direction after many drafts in which ex-general manager Jerry Angelo ignored the line until last season.
So, what have the Bears done? Veteran Frank Omiyale was released March 1 and guard Anthony Herrera, a Tice protege from the Vikings, visited Halas Hall on March 14. That's it. Herrera remains unsigned. General manager Phil Emery, speaking on a teleconference with season ticket holders Wednesday, indicated the team still is seeking help.
"(We're) trying to find the right competitors to come in here," Emery said. "The right players that fit for us and what Coach Tice is asking."
If there was a creative difference between Tice and Martz, it didn't spill out publicly. It seemed evident how Cutler felt about Martz at times, and cameras captured elements of their relationship last season.
With pretty much the same blockers, minus Omiyale, can the line be better in 2012?
First, the sacks didn't pile up last season until after Cutler went out with the thumb injury in Week 10. He was sacked 23 times in 10 games, which put the Bears on pace for a manageable number of 37. Cutler was sacked only five times in his last five games.
When Caleb Hanie entered, chaos ensued. He was sacked 19 times in four games before being benched, and Josh McCown was sacked seven times in the season finale against the Vikings in Minnesota.
So, a healthy Cutler should trigger improvement. And when he left, Martz took most plans for seven-step drops with him. The introduction of quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates to the system likely will bring some elements that helped Cutler be successful for the Broncos with rollouts and moving pockets. Those wrinkles also should help against pressure just as the addition of a top-flight receiver in Brandon Marshall should.
Coach Lovie Smith, speaking a week ago at the owners meetings, said he's comfortable with the personnel.
"I don't want to picture it that we are looking for a left tackle," he said. "We feel comfortable with (J'Marcus Webb and Carimi). We like (what) we have right now for what we are going to do with them."
Carimi (knee) and left guard Chris Williams (wrist) are returning from injuries. That will allow Lance Louis, who spent nearly all of 2011 at right tackle, to move back to guard where he is a better fit. There's decent depth on the interior with Chris Spencer and Edwin Williams, who got a modest contract extension late last season.
Tice lauded the performance of center Roberto Garza, and now it's a matter of how he lines the group up on each side of the Pro Bowl alternate. It looks like he's going to do that with familiar faces.
With the unlikely exception of DeCastro falling, I don't see the Bears going OL in round 1. I'd love to get Konz as a present-OG/future-OC in the 2nd but I doubt he'd fall past the late 1st or high 2nd. Instead, I really want a passrusher/future 3-down DE in the 1st as both of our current starters are north of 30. I know lots of people are hoping for some flashy WR pick, but I would strongly prefer to wait till the mid-draft to get another big-body WR prospect to develop behind Bennett (Quick, McNutt, Jones, Toon, Childs, etc.) and I think that is plausible now that we have some vet depth at CB. With the running game looking promising, I think we can do quite well with Marshall, Bennett, and Kellen Davis being the main go to receivers and guys like Forte, Hester, and Thomas chipping in.
...would be just fine by me. Let CWill compete with Webb for LT with the loser becoming the backup. An alternative might be
4. Brandon Mosley
...with CWill staying at LG and Mosley becoming the backup OT.