The offensive line had a new look when the Bears opened the doors at Halas Hall for their OTA on Wednesday.
Orlando Pace looked to be in the kind of top shape the team advertised when they signed him within minutes of trading for Jay Cutler on April 2. He was installed at left tackle, the spot manned by John St. Clair last season and John Tait for the three seasons prior to that. Chris Williams, the 2008 first-round pick, is getting more comfortable at right tackle. But the makeover might not be done yet. Most expect Frank Omiyale, who the team signed hours into the free agency period, will claim the left guard job sooner or later. Sooner could be by the start of training camp. But Josh Beekman has not relinquished anything yet.
"It is a competition,'' Beekman said. "Frank is a great guy and he is a competitor. He is going to make the Bears better. If he beats me out, he makes the Bears better. If I win my spot back, hopefully I make the Bears better. Competition breeds success. They brought him in and Frank is a hard worker."
Beekman was a fourth-round pick from Boston College in 2007. He wasn't used as a rookie and it looked like St. Clair would eventually land the left guard job last summer until Williams went down with back surgery. Beekman stepped in after Terrence Metcalf underwent arthroscopic knee surgery and he didn't look back. He was on the field for all but five snaps during the season as the Bears were one of just six clubs to have all five offensive linemen start 16 games.
The knock on Beekman coming out of school was he was undersized. The club lists him at 6-2, 310 pounds. He said he's been working with strength and conditioning coach Rusty Jones to increase his lean mass, but the Bears have started their goal to get bigger on the line and Omiyale is listed at 6-4, 310. Ultimately, the decision could weigh on the size of a contract. Omiyale signed a four-year deal worth as much as $14 million and he will collect $6.3 million of the $11.5 million base value this season. The thinking by some is Beekman could eventually take over for veteran center Olin Kreutz, but he's signed through 2010 and could look to play beyond that. Beekman will be a free agent (provided there is a CBA extension) following the '10 season.
"We'll see what happens at the end of the camp,'' Beekman said. "Olin sat me down and coached me a lot. [Line coach] Harry [Hiestand] was a great influence on me. Luckily, I have he bar set high with Olin, with the example of what you need to do to be a great O-lineman. I get to watch every day and see how good I have to be.''
Omiyale worked with the second team at left guard. At some point, he will probably be worked in for first team reps.