Brad Biggs: "Bears position analysis: Offensive line"
Here it is.
LINK to the article By Brad Biggs, Tribune reporter8:43 a.m. CST, February 14, 2013
When Phil Emery entered the Halas Hall auditorium the day after firing Lovie Smith last month, the Chicago Bears general manager was prepared to cover a wide range of topics.
Emery was ready to talk about the decision to release Smith after working with him for one season. He outlined what he was seeking in a new coach and in very general terms how the search would be launched. He was also ready to cover what he did and didnít do in outfitting the offensive line for the 2012 season Ė in detail.
Asked about the play of the line in a 10-6 season, Emery took more than 10 minutes and 1,400 words responding to a single question. At times it was insightful as he explained how he used data from outside sources like Stats LLC and Pro Football Focus. He finds third-party evaluations of pass blocking somewhat useful but said run blocking is more abstract. It was telling, honest and unvarnished. At times he came across somewhat defensive but he was thorough Ė very thorough.
Emery made what many believe was the right move when he took over Ė prioritizing playmakers over all else. He thoroughly explained the decision process that led to a trade for Brandon Marshall and the use of a second-round draft pick on wide receiver Alshon Jeffery instead of selecting what would have been a developmental offensive lineman.
In the process of explaining the move, Emery noted that their was a dearth of "franchise" left tackles in the free-agent market. The market is different this year with as many as seven starting left tackles coming out of contract around the league. Add a solid mix of offensive linemen in the 2013 draft into the equation and the Bears will have options when prioritizing a personnel plan for the offseason.
Roll call: Cory Brandon (signed through 2013), James Brown (signed through 2014), Gabe Carimi (signed through 2014), Roberto Garza (signed through 2013), Lance Louis (unrestricted free agent), Chilo Rachal (unrestricted free agent), Jonathan Scott (unrestricted free agent), Chris Spencer (unrestricted free agent), JíMarcus Webb (signed through 2013), Edwin Williams (signed through 2013)
2012 season review: It's clear the Bears can't continue to hold the play-caller responsible for the performance of the line. From Ron Turner to Mike Martz and then Mike Tice, the idea has been that the players would be made better by the scheme. Itís time to consider the personnel over the scheme. The Bears have replaced the play-caller again and itís easier to replace one man than five on an offensive line, but more change is likely coming.
How did the Bears rank? They were 25th in sacks allowed with 44, a category that isnít solely on the offensive line. There were clearly times when quarterback Jay Cutler, intent on making a play downfield, held the ball too long. In those instances, blame can also go to wide receivers for not springing open. The offense finished 10th in rushing with 1,970 yards, just shy of a second 2,000-yard season under Tice. The Bears averaged 4.2 yards per carry, tied for 14th.
In citing data from Stats LLC, Emery said the Bears finished 26th in pass blocking, taking into account sacks, hits and hurries.
ďWe finished 26th, which tells weíve got to get better,Ē Emery said. ďWeíve got to get better. How does that impact winning? Our disruption pressures were like 33 percent range in terms of for every pass play. The six teams below, three of them were in the playoffs, three werenít. The team at 25th, that was within .10 difference was the San Francisco 49ers, one of the best teams in the league. So I cannot absolutely say that itís on the offensive line thatís going to determine our success or not.
ďThe O-line has got to get better, weíve got to push that level up. We canít be in the back end of the 20s or in the 20s if we are going to be a championship-contending team on a consistent basis. I still think it comes down to how many playmakers do you have as opposed to the team youíre playing. And are they making plays that are game-changing in the moment of truth?Ē
Pro Football Focus ranked the linemen, a subjective process as we have outlined in other position reviews. Webb ranked 47th out of 80 graded offensive tackles Ė 42nd as a pass blocker. Carimi, who spent some time at guard, was 73rd among tackles. But he was ninth among all tackles as a run blocker, proof of a strength identified when Carimi was drafted in the first round in 2011. Louis ranked 47th among 81 guards. He was 17th in pass blocking, the metrics that Emery puts more weight in. The Bears didnít run the ball particularly well up the middle. Louis was 76th. Center Roberto Garza was 30th but 19th as a pass blocker, in the middle of the pack. Spencer (50th overall) graded much better than Rachal (76th).
Itís worth remembering that Emery thought Scott did a solid job in the second half of the season playing right tackle.
Free agency/draft priority: One club source said in the final weeks of the season and in the aftermath of the firing of Lovie Smith that there was talk of pursuing Denverís Ryan Clady and Miamiís Jake Long, two players coming out of contract. It is strongly believed the Broncos will place the franchise tag on Clady and Long has an injury history in recent years and pay demands that might put him out of the Bearsí reach. One way or another, the club has to settle the left tackle position. Webb has spent the last two seasons at the position and itís difficult to imagine new offensive coordinator/line coach Aaron Kromer views him as a longterm solution at the position. If the Bears can find an upgrade Ė via free agency or the draft Ė they can move Webb to right tackle and allow him to compete with Carimi. The Bears counted on Carimi bouncing back from a serious knee injury in 2012 and he didnít return to the level he was at as a rookie. He spent an entire offseason working on his knee. They canít put as much faith in Carimi this time around, but itís fair to imagine that with an entire offseason ahead of him, there is room for considerable growth. Carimi is a dedicated worker and this year he will be able to work on improving his frame. Tice thought he played too light this past season. Carimi will be able to get stronger and he could return to form. Webb could push him and be a swing tackle. Scott could also play a role if the Bears decide to bring him back. If Scott is re-signed, expect the club to draft a lineman and perhaps not make a big play at the position in free agency.
A decision needs to be made on the interior as well. Louis is rehabilitating a torn ACL and should be ready to go sometime around training camp. He is coming out of contract and the club needs to find a guard if he isnít brought back. Louis will command attention from other teams if he reaches the open market. Brown showed promise at the end of the year and he could figure into the mix for 2013 and beyond. Carimi also got a little work at guard and thatís not outside the realm of possibilities. Garza is entering the final year of his contract and drafting a player to groom behind Garza for a season would make sense.
Change in coaching staff means: Kromerís bread and butter in New Orleans was a zone blocking scheme but he also used plenty of iso and power. He came with strong recommendations from Saints players.
ďHe coached guys on an individual level to your strengths, and that is a good way to go about it because guys are different," New Orleans center Brian De La Puente said. "Jahri (Evans) and Ben (Grubbs) are different players than I am. He knew that and he coached to our strengths. That is something he is going to bring to the Bears ó individualized coaching and really maximizing each player.Ē
A new staff is going to want some personnel changes and that is what will make the next two months interesting.
Bottom line: As Emery said, the Bears have to get better. But his focus begins with playmakers and that is something his predecessor Jerry Angelo never adequately addressed. Look for Emery to strike a balance this offseason with some moves up front for the line, which has been solid run blocking the last two seasons.
Ninth in a 10-part series. Coming Friday: Special teams