Giant test coming for Bears' O-line
Super Bowl champions' pass rushers could help settle battles at left tackle, left guard
By Brad Biggs, Chicago Tribune reporter
6:10 p.m. CDT, August 19, 2012
If the Bears are in no hurry to settle on the left side of their offensive line — and Mike Tice gave that impression — it will be good to watch how the battles play out this week.
The third exhibition gives the paying fan the closest thing to real value for his dollar as game plans are installed and starters play into the second half. Why not evaluate what now is an open competition at left tackle and left guard in a game against the Giants, who have arguably the deepest rotation of pass rushers in the NFL?
The Bears face the Giants on Friday night at MetLife Stadium, the site of the line's meltdown in 2010 when an NFL-record nine sacks were surrendered in the first half of a Week 4 meeting and Jay Cutler was knocked out with a concussion. The defending Super Bowl champions used a wave of linemen to help them through last postseason and they have 13 sacks in exhibition games vs. the Jaguars and Jets.
J'Marcus Webb shared time at left tackle with Chris Williams in Saturday's 33-31 victory over the Redskins at Soldier Field and left guard was swung wide open with veteran Chris Spencer sharing time with Chilo Rachal. It was a far better performance than in the exhibition opener.
"Whenever you have time (to throw) and are able to do some things in the running game, they gave us a chance," Bears coach Lovie Smith said.
Tice said last week he was willing to wait until after facing the Giants to make a decision on starters. It makes sense to evaluate performances against Osi Umenyiora, Jason Pierre-Paul, Mathias Kiwanuka, Justin Tuck — a stable of pass rushers that would make any defensive coordinator envious.
The Bears aren't going to have a dominant offensive line, but if Cutler has time and holes are created in the running game, the offense can be productive, as it was in quickly mounting a 17-0 lead against the Redskins. Cutler completed 7 of 13 passes for 122 yards in only four series.
"We were having a party on the sidelines," defensive end Israel Idonije said. "The defense was watching them. I mean: First down, first down, big play. It's just a lot of fun."
It all starts up front. Webb played better than he did a week ago against the Broncos, but it wasn't a clean performance. He missed a block on defensive end Jarvis Jenkins, allowing him to pursue laterally and stuff running back Matt Forte for no gain. Williams played well for the second consecutive week.
"I am looking to start," Williams said. "I am hoping to get a shot at playing (at the Giants)."
The new wrinkle was the time share at left guard on the heels of Spencer's poor outing vs. the Broncos. Now Rachal, a newcomer signed to a one-year contract with a minimum salary benefit, has a chance to unseat the veteran. Each was whistled for a false start.
Spencer, a center by trade before moving to right guard last season, isn't talking like his job is on the line.
"The only concern I have is continually trying to get better, getting comfortable where I am and go from there," he said. "It was just a bad one (against the Broncos). I played at a much better level (Saturday). It was one of those things where I just went out and turned it loose and played. I got caught feeling my way through it (against the Broncos). This game, I just went out and let it rip."
Rachal isn't talking about the starting job, but he doesn't have to. He's a bigger player at 6-foot-5, 323 pounds, giving him two inches and 14 pounds on Spencer. Tice likes rugged, physical linemen. But Rachal wasn't always consistent during four seasons with the 49ers, a reason why he lost his starting job last season.
"I just want to focus on what I control and keep getting better and let it take care of itself," Rachal said. "I don't want to say, 'That's my spot.' I know if I go out and handle my business that is going to speak volumes."
Asked whether mental mistakes were his undoing in the past, Rachal said, "I haven't really had mentals since I've been here. I've done a real good job this season, coming into my fifth year, of becoming a better student of the game and having a better understanding of the offense. So, I really wouldn't say it's mentals. I have somebody (ahead of me) that started last season and has been here. I have to come in here and earn a spot."