Chicago Sun-Times

Four Down Territory, Jan. 17: Will Bears address needs on offensive line?

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Time to reach into the mailbag one final time for the week. We'll get right to it.

Q: John Tait is entering the final year of his contract, John St. Clair is a free agent and Chris Williams didn't play as a rookie. The Bears can't think the offensive line is in good shape moving forward, can they? Tell me they're going to address this, please.

Fred W., Las Vegas

A: The Bears were one of only six teams this past season to have all five offensive linemen start 16 games, the first time the club has accomplished that since 2001. There were some key questions surrounding the line during training camp, ones that grew more pointed when Williams was lost for the first half of the season following back surgery. Terrence Metcalf was expected to start at left guard and then he was lost for the preseason after arthroscopic knee surgery. Through it all, the line stuck together and performed fairly well with St. Clair at left tackle on a permanent basis for the first time in his career. Take away two games against Jared Allen, and he was steady. Josh Beekman stepped in at left guard, Tait made the transition back to right tackle and Olin Kreutz and Roberto Garza were fixtures.

But there's expected to be change moving forward. Williams will be moved into the left tackle slot and if the club makes a bid to re-sign St. Clair, a possibility, he could get in the mix at left guard. But keep in mind the team was relatively pleased with the efforts of Beekman. That doesn't address the need to get younger however. Before drafting Williams, general manager Jerry Angelo had gone five consecutive drafts without selecting a lineman in the first three rounds. The Bears relied on veterans, primarily free agents, and got old in a hurry. Tackle looks to be the most pressing issue. Not only is Tait entering the final year of his contract, he'll turn 34 later this month. Scouts are calling this another solid draft at that position and at this point we're going to say there is a good chance Angelo goes for a tackle in the first three or four rounds.

"We will be looking at that position again hard this year both in the draft and potentially in free agency,'' Angelo said this morning appearing with Mully & Hanley on the Score, 670-AM. "We have some age there. We feel that it's a good group. They did a very good job. I thought [line coach] Harry [Hiestand] did a great job. We still need to bring in some quality linemen to get them in the mix and develop because it is usually a two-year proposition at that position.''

Q: The Bears have been, let's say coy, about the possibility of trading Brian Urlacher. The same can be said of the Chargers and LaDainian Tomlinson. The Bears are paper thin in depth at running back and the Chargers could use help on defense, especially in the 3-4. You can see where I'm headed with this. Any thoughts?

Dave, Parts Unknown

A: I see where you're going with that but I don't see it happening. I think the public has been coy about the possibility of the Bears dealing Urlacher, I don't think the Bears have acted that way. Urlacher is coming off the most disappointing season of his career other than 2004 when he missed seven games because of injury. He didn't make the kind of impact plays you expect but like linebackers coach Lloyd Lee said after he was dismissed, the statistics didn't tell the entire story. Everyone saw Urlacher lined up in the A gap week after week, a spot that made it difficult to make plays when he was dropping off the line at the snap. I'd fully expect the deployment of the former defensive player of the year to be one of the "tweaks" the organization reviews when coach Lovie Smith talked about tweaking the scheme.

I'm not sure Tomlinson is what the Bears want now anyway. He will turn 30 in June and is coming off a season that was hampered in the beginning by a turf toe injury and at the end by a torn groin tendon. Tomlinson averaged 3.8 yards per carry. He's stated his goal is to be healthy in 2009 and the Chargers will likely pair him up with a new back if Darren Sproles departs in free agency. As much as it's been discussed, I don't see Urlacher going anywhere.

Q: Any chance the Bears will look to trade Dan Buenning for maybe a fourth-round pick? He is a well-known run blocker with great size. The Steelers, who need all the line help they can get, may trade for him and he fits what they do on their line. He does not really fit the Bears system as they are not really a running team.

Creighton, Parts Unknown

A: Um, no. The Bears dealt a sixth-round pick to Tampa Bay for Buenning just before the season started. He didn't play this season and all of a sudden he's going to command a fourth-round pick? The Steelers are not in their fourth AFC title game in 10 seasons because they make deals like that. Buenning is a valuable player to have. He can play all three interior positions and worked at center much of the season in practice. That eliminates the team from having to carry someone who is strictly a center in a backup role. It's the kind of versatility Josh Beekman and Roberto Garza also provide. Had Buenning come on board a month earlier, he could have been in position to challenge Beekman for the starting job at left guard. Chances are good Buenning sticks this coming season. Terrence Metcalf could wind up being the odd man out because he's making more money.

Q: I believe from one of your previous articles you indicated the Bears could have in the neighborhood of $27 million in cap space including the $10 million from the unearned incentives in the Marcus Hamilton contract. Being that they don't seem likely to do any big extensions this year with their current players (having done that last offseason), could you see them making a run at a top tier free agent like Albert Haynesworth, Nnamdi Asomugha or Jordan Gross if available? If Tommie Harris can get back to his old form, he and Haynesworth could be the most dominant tandem in the league and automatically make the ends much better. Asomugha would be a lockdown corner that would allow Charles Tillman or Corey Graham move to safety. Gross could allow them to add an elite tackle and focus elsewhere in the draft with John Tait perhaps a cap casualty in the last year of his deal.

Joe B., Oxford, Conn.

A: The Bears currently project to have in the neighborhood of $26 million in cap room, which is in the ballpark of a lot of clubs. Consider for a minute that whoever takes control of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be doing so with roughly $45 million in cap space available. As we wrote before, it's more about the cash available than the cap space these days. Certainly all three of the players you mentioned are going to command their own armored truck full of money. I wouldn't rule out the Bears making a major play in free agency and it is going to be interesting to see what kind of plan they hatch following their organizational meetings, which will begin after the Senior Bowl.

If the Bears believe that the addition of Rod Marinelli as line coach and the takeover of play calling by Lovie Smith, coupled with the return of Bob Babich to the linebackers room are all the defense needs for a fix, then probably not. The team could address a need or two in the draft and go with the core of players already in place. If Smith wants to ensure his move to play caller is a success, maybe he will voice his desire to see a top-flight free agent come on board.

Let's take a look at the three players:

Haynesworth ensured the Tennessee Titans will not place the franchise tag on him for a second consecutive season by meeting certain criteria in his contract. That doesn't mean the Titans are not working to re-sign him. Haynesworth played his college ball in Tennessee and some feel he'll ultimately wind up back there. He's going to command the biggest contract for a defensive tackle and that would leave the Bears with an abundance of money tied up in two positions--tackle and linebacker. Can Ron Turner's side of the ball get a little love?

Asomugha is considered one of the best, if not the best cover corner in the league. He should surpass the $57 million, six-year contract Asante Samuel received from the Philadelphia Eagles, that's if Oakland doesn't put the tag on him again. The Bears feel they have an elite cornerback of their own in Tillman, who will be working his way back from shoulder surgery for the second time in four years. Yes, the addition of Asomugha would allow for some movement in the secondary, but Angelo's history is to build along the line. That's why Haynesworth would make more sense.

If Gross manages to get out of Carolina, he's going to command a huge deal and could very well make the buyer happy. That buyer will not be the Bears. They're excited about seeing Chris Williams at left tackle. Tait will not be a cap casualty and is earning the kind of money starting tackles with 10 years service get. His addition back in 2004 has proven to be one of the club's stronger free-agent moves.

If the Bears break out the check book in free agency, I'd look for the following positions: pass rusher, safety, defensive tackle, playmaker. Unfortunately, it's pretty thin when you look at playmaking wide receivers. Let's see how things shake out in the coming weeks.

Thanks for all the questions. We'll get back to Four Down Territory Monday, maybe we'll file again from near the Franco Harris display in the Pittsburgh airport. Send in your questions before then. As always, thanks for reading.

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As the name indicates, I'm a Bear fan transplanted deep into the heart of Dixie.

Brad is there any indication in the bowels of your database that the Bears have turned the corner on their drafting methodology?

Everyone has a theory on why the Bears have regressed since 2006. Complacency with big money, bad coaching, you name it. I think the problem is talent erosion. They are paying the price for bad drafts in 2003, 2004 and 2005. They seem to have done better in early rounds in 2006 and 2007, but in the process lost their mojo in the mid-rounds. Is this just luck or have they refined their way of doing it?

Brad, I agree with you about guard Dan Buenning, I highly doubt the Bears would trade a player they just traded for themselves, they probably got plans for Buenning, or else they would not have traded or him to begin with. I can see Dan Buenning in the mix at right guard next season, the reason being, I see Buenning is listed as the second team right guard, and with Buennings size, 6-4 320lbs, he could help move the pile inside at right guard. Also, in Tampa Buenning has already proved he can be a hell of a run blocker. Thats also interesting to know Buenning has been getting reps at center, I would have never guessed that. I like this Q&A thing Brad, Im able to get a lot more inside info from it, for example, Buenning getting reps at center, again, I would have never known that other wise.

As for John St.Clair, I say keep him at tackle if the Bears resign him. I wouldn't move him to left guard, Josh Beekman did a good job this season, and really came on toward the end of the season. It would make no sense to move St.Clair to left guard with St.Clair being a 10 year vet, all he would be is another stop gap at the position. And I think Beekman is going to only get better, keep Beekman, the younger player, at left guard. Chicago needs to get younger on the offensive line, and I think Josh Beekman was a step in the right direction. As for St.Clair if he is resigned, make him the swing tackle, and maybe let him challenge John Tait for the right tackle spot. With Tait or St.Clair at right tackle for 2009, this would give a rookie tackle a season to develop. GO BEARS!!

Random unrelated comment: aside from the OL now that Gruden's been fired...Uh...Uh?

Defensive end Julius Peppers let the Carolina Panthers know he is looking for a change of scenery.
"The front office has been informed of my desire to explore opportunities with other NFL teams following the expiration of my contract next month," Peppers said in a statement released by his agent Carl Carey. "At this point in my NFL career, I am seeking new challenges that will allow me to grow, develop and reach my personal potential on the football field.
"I strongly feel that making a move at this time is in my best interest. I appreciate the entire Panthers organization and am thankful for the seven seasons I've spent with the team." ESPN.COM

Oh! Oh! Oh! Chicago has some nifty scenery!

Kevin, I agree with Buenning at right guard and resigning St Clair and letting him battle Tait. The Bears need 2 o-lineman from this draft that will be starters in 1-2 yrs. Hopefully we can get Kreutz's replacement and a good tackle, I know they were kind of high on Balogh. Brad can you find out if the Bears o-line coach still likes this kid.

i know the bears have a laundry list of needs and a decent amount of cap room, but are they brave enough to fill some of those needs in free agency to lessen the importance of making a quality draft, which Angelo has a hard time doing? Peppers is very attractive and the cover 2 starts with the pass rush of the front 4. A harris and peppers combo would make our overrated secondary look better than they are. Am i dreaming or is there a shot the bears will make a play for him?

The Bears need to get serious and sign Asomugha. That signing would automatically fix the defensive back situation with the BEARS. Asomugha on one corner, Tillman or Graham on the other, Tillman or Graham at Free Safety,Payne at Strong Safety and Manning at nickel.

Trade Vasher for what you can get out of him maybe a 2-3rd round pick from the Cowboys and keep Bowman as the guy that fills in for an injuries.

With probably the best cover corner in the league in Asomugha the Bears D would be allowed to concentrate on picking up a QB, DL or OL in the draft at #18.

I don't know if the Bears have the kahouneese to actually get Peppers, so this is probably a way that they could get some real bang for their buck, improve the D and not have to draft Free safety this year in the draft.

Creighton, in case you didn't hear Brad, the answer was "Um, No". Ha! Ha! Ha! Good one.


I do not understand Angelo, do you? First Jerry Angelo said at the end of the season what we all have known for years. The Bears do not have and badly need a Franchise Quarterback. And until the Bears have a Franchise Quarterback, they must keep looking for one. Lovie Smith disagreed and now it looks like Angelo is singing the Lovie Smith tune... a tune that says the Bears don't need no stinkin' Franchise Quarterback... they have a serviceable Bears quarterback called Orton who has almost identcial statistics to the Bears quarterback who is an unserviceable quarterback called Grossman, the same Grossman they are abandoning as not good enough this year. I see no method here. I see no plan here. What I see is another year of an ineffective poorly functioning Offense. What do you see?

I see Jerry passing the buck, he shelled out all that money for a defense that sucked, and now he wants to blame the QB, and after Lovie stood up for Kyle, now JA has to backtrack and stand up for Lovie, lolol
If (as I believe Kevin said) Buening can move into LG and St. Clair into RT, and we buy a FA or 2 the Bears might not look too bad next year, And if the Dbacks man up to the WR, and if they move Url back to where he plays best, and if.....

Those of you who think that Josh Beekman did a good job at left guard miss the point. The Bears need to get bigger on the offensive line, especially in the middle. With Chris Williams at left tackle, moving John St. Clair to left guard would greatly improve the line. You cannot be successful with an undersized interior of the line, because you can't move the pile in short yardage situations, a fact the Bears unfortunately proved many times this season.

The Bears also need to get younger on the O line. Drafting offensive linemen should be a priority, as building a great line greatly improves the rest of the offense. The Bears also need better play out of the receiver and quarterback positions, but the line should come first.

I do agrgee that we need to get stronger at the point of attack, but the more pressing issue is our lack of foot speed on the line. Decent or good pass rushers consistently abuse our tackles, and beat our right guard off the snap with regularity. My thinking is that Beekman will be a fixture on the line going forward, but the eventual goal is likely for him to replace Kreutz when he hangs it up. I think in the interim, he Beekman would be a better RG than LG, and you put an experienced right tackle next to him. Buenning would be a better fit for LG, because you will have Chris Williams coming in next year, and the road grader will not only help him with runs to that side, but he also takes up more space to allow Williams to get wide to block guys like Jared Allen.

Free agency will be big for the Bears this year. Peppers and Gross from Carolina need to be targets 1 and 1A. Gross at RT means we can draft a DE in Round 1, and target other need positions later in day 1. I do not think we can get both of them, but if I had to pick one, Gross is a better fit for us. Peppers is a beast, but Marinelli can do good things with the group we have, and a 1st round draft pick. I do not think Ogunleye has lived up to his contract at all, and would not be surprised if he is let go this offseason, but then we would need at least 2 DEs in the offseason, and there aren't that many out there for the taking. But solidifying the offensive line needs to be our top priority. Orton needs more time, and Forte needs more holes.

Defensively, we are hurting, but we don't help matters by trotting out an inept offense who puts the defense on the field for 35-40 minutes a game. We need to control the clock, and score points on offense. If we can do that, our guys will have more energy in the second half, and can make up a lot of the gap from where they were in 2005 and 2006, and where they are now. A couple of young players (a pass rushing DE, maybe a safety), and a better performance from Harris, Brown, Anderson, and Harrison under Marinelli, and we could be right back in the mix.

They always say the best offense is a good defense, and the best defense is a good offense. We need to make our defense better by making our offense more effective. It's as simple as that. How many times did we go 3 and out this year? How many drives took less than 3 minutes? That just means less time for the defense to rest up and make adjustments. That doesn't help matters much.

THE BEARS NEED A WHOLE NEW o-lINE!!! Garza isnt any good,Beekman isnt good,Kruetz is old Tait is old and ST Clair is ok.If orton had more time the bears would be better.We need a whole new O-line i totally disagree with you guys!!This whole organization is screwed up from the owneres to coaching a long time bears fan since i was born anyway,and i do not see the bears doing anything special for a while...UNFORTUNATELY!

mike in ft wayne.

Take a deep breath dude. The Bears didn't make the playoffs, and now you are stuck with Indiana basketball. Don't let this year sour you forever. Your life has to get better soon.

I understand. Hurricane Gustov knocked out all our communications the week when I was supposed to be making my draft for fantasy football. Missed the league for the first time since Bret Favre's first year in GB. Then the Bears. Bad year man.

It will get better. As much as these blogging "experts" hate to admit it, Lovie is right. The Bears are not that far away. They beat the Eagles worse than the Cardinals did. Look where the Cards wound up.

Here's a name that should be on JA's radar for the right tackle spot...Jon Stinchcomb. He is a free agent to be, and it looks like New Orleans will let him walk. A solid vet, he is also more of a run blocker, so he would fit very well with what we are trying to do. If we can't get Gross, he is a decent fallback option.


Are you kidding about the Bears thinking Tillman is an elite corner? Yes, he's great in run support and causing turnovers but he is a liability in coverage. If the Bears honestly think Tillman is an elite corner it shows exactly what is wrong with this organization.

Not opening holes was a much bigger problem than sacks allowed, and being able to run more effectively per se is not only more fundamental to winning, it will help the passing game. I agree that St. Clair gets beaten too often off the ball on passing plays, which is why he is a much better guard than tackle, and should be moved inside. He was excellent at the end of 2007 at guard. Notice that when Ruben Brown was healthy, Olin Kreutz played much better. Kreutz is small and is ineffective with two small guards next to him. John Tait is getting old and needs to be replaced by a younger tackle ASAP. I have no opinion on whether to replace Garza with Beekman; Garza's play would also improve slightly with a bigger guard on the other side, and he's generally been pretty solid. Of course, all this assumes that Chris Williams is as good as the Bears think he is, and he hasn' started a game yet.

Don't buy into Lovie Smith's claim that size on the lines is overrated; it's not. (This idiocy is one of the major things wrong with the Bears: their lines are too small and get pushed around.) This is football, not a track meet or even basketball, and it's still fundamentally about blocking and tackling, which is done better by larger players on the lines.

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This page contains a single entry by Brad Biggs published on January 16, 2009 8:20 PM.

Dent calls into question Bears' draft record was the previous entry in this blog.

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