Chicago Sun-Times

11 days to Camp: Newcomer Pace, 1st round pick Williams key line

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Getting back to our position-by-position breakdowns as we move closer to the first practice of the summer at Olivet Nazarene University, we move to the offensive line.

Projected starters: LT Orlando Pace, 6-7, 325, 13th season, Ohio State; LG Frank Omiyale, 6-4, 315, 5th season, Tennessee Tech; C Olin Kreutz, 6-2, 292, 12th season, Washington; RG Roberto Garza, 6-2, 310, 9th season, Texas A&M-Kingsville; RT Chris Williams, 6-6, 315, 2nd season, Vanderbilt.

Others

Johan Asiata, 6-4, 300, Rookie, UNLV
Cody Balogh, 6-6, 303, 1st season, Montana
Josh Beekman, 6-2, 310, 3rd season, Boston College
Dan Buenning, 6-4, 300, 5th season, Wisconsin
Dennis Conley, 6-2, 300, Rookie, Hampton
Lance Louis, 6-3, 305, Rookie, San Diego State
Tyler Reed, 6-5, 305, 1st season, Penn State
Kevin Shaffer, 6-5, 318, 8th season, Tulsa

Projected depth chart

LT: Pace, Shaffer
LG: Omiyale, Beekman
C: Kreutz, Beekman or Buenning
RG: Garza, Beekman
RT: Williams, Shaffer

2009 salary cap numbers

Johan Asiata $311,666
Cody Balogh $315,200
Josh Beekman $563,325
Dan Buenning $905,200
Dennis Conley $311,000
Roberto Garza $1,565,000
Olin Kreutz $4,133,333
Lance Louis $320,495
Frank Omiyale $4,950,000
Orlando Pace $5,333,333
Tyler Reed $317,280
Kevin Shaffer $2,383,333
Chris Williams $2,149,700

Number of offensive linemen on the roster at the start of the 2008 season: 9

Projected number of offensive linemen on 2009 roster at start of the season: 8

The skinny: The Bears are reshaping their offensive line for the second consecutive year after using the same five (Tait-Brown-Kreutz-Garza-Miller) for the three previous seasons. They're set to open with their third left tackle, Pace, and third right tackle, Williams, in as many seasons. Nothing is official but Omiyale, the newcomer in free agency, is expected to supplant Beekman at left guard giving the front a new look at 60 percent of the positions. Line coach Harry Hiestand has done a credible job with what he's been given, which for most of his tenure has been a veteran group with a handful of castoffs from other cities. Hiestand didn't break stride last season when Williams was lost on the second day of training camp, forcing him to play John St. Clair at left tackle when the plan was for the veteran to be at left guard. Now, general manager Jerry Angelo is hopeful that his medical risk will pan out in a big way.

Ultimately, right tackle is not where the club projects Williams, the first-round draft pick from 2008, to be. But the hope is the team can squeeze a couple of Ruben Brown-type years out of Pace. He missed 25 games over the last three seasons in St. Louis, but Pace started 14 games last season. One NFC scout said he still looks solid as a pass blocker and the issue for the former No. 1 overall pick is run blocking. Pace was in good condition during the offseason program and it could be that a change of scenery and escaping a struggling franchise will reinvigorate him. The Bears have covered themselves in the event that injuries happen as they have Shaffer in a swing tackle role, not to mention Omiyale, who can play outside. That type of flexibility on the line will be an asset and there is little doubt right now the team will go with eight linemen to open the season. That was the plan last year until Williams had back surgery in August. In choosing to keep him on the 53-man roster, the Bears forced themselves to keep a ninth lineman. Omiyale should provide a little more bulk inside in replacing Beekman, and that was one of the stated goals early in the offseason. Kreutz remains the anchor of the group and with the Bears certain to face fewer eight-man fronts with Jay Cutler at quarterback, it will be interesting to see if the perception of him changes. Some have suggested the six-time Pro Bowl performer has been in decline but with Cutler and Matt Forte able to better keep opponents honest, the Bears' run blocking might look different.

Garza will enter his fourth season as the starter at right guard. Offensive coordinator Ron Turner suggested Buenning could be in competition for a job, but also said the team was happy with Garza. Buenning's chance never seemed to materialize during the offseason program, a sign of Garza's standing.

The upside: For starters, Williams has to prove he can withstand the rigors of an entire season with a repaired back. He's not just part of the solution for this season, he's part of the solution longterm. A strong first season as a starter will go a long way toward establishing him as a pillar on offense for years to come. Obviously, Pace needs to hold up on the left side and the Bears need Omiyale to blossom like they expect after pouncing on him at the outset of free agency. Winning teams often stack the Pro Bowl roster along the line. If the Bears win, it won't be surprising to see a name on the NFC team.

The downside: Williams' back becomes an issue once again and the criticism Angelo received last season for the situation looks like a small brush fire compared to what erupts. After holding on to some older players--Brown and Miller-- a year too long in recent seasons, the Bears get stuck with another over-the-hill performer in Pace.

On the hot seat: Williams. With a year of learning under his belt and a little action last season, he should be prepared to have a successful season but the back injury is going to leave a bullseye--where else--on his back, at least for the near future. He can't be the left tackle of the future until he's been the right tackle for 2009.

Final thought: When the Bears were last good in 2006, the line was a real strength of the team. Hiestand got about everything he could out of the unit last season but the Bears struggled at times in short-yardage situations. You can't hang all of that on the line. Kyle Orton didn't command the kind of respect that Cutler will and Forte tends to be an upright runner, making him easier to stop when going for that tough one or two yards. The unit remains a work in progress. The Bears know they're not going to get more than one, two years tops out of Pace. They need to find a young tackle to hopefully pair with Williams and managed to buy themselves some time with the signing of the potential future Hall of Famer. The real plus for the group is that there should be experienced backups in place. Beekman and Buenning have plenty of starting experience, as does Shaffer, so the unit should be able to handle any injury situations. Even if this won't be the look of the Bears' front line for long, it has a chance to be good for a year.

Previous previews:

Quarterback

Defensive end

Running back

Defensive tackle

Fullback

Linebacker

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20 Comments

So we go into another season with the pathetic weak Garza still at guard. Garza has been trucked more than any guard I have seen on the Bears these last two years and the loyalty totally escapes me. I watched several occasions Garza either moved no one or was pushed back in short yardage situations. If there is true competition in this camp I hope the Bears are not wearing loyaty blinders.

John Lynch on Cutler:
"I like Jay, he's a friend of mine," Lynch said. "He had some growing up to do, probably still has some growing up to do. But in saying that, I think the Broncos erred in letting him go.

"This is a guy, in my mind, that's a once-in-every-15-year-type talent. He's got that kind of skill. I think he'll grow into the other things. I sometimes think during this whole ordeal, they tried to paint him as a bad guy, but he's not a bad guy at all. He's got some growing up to do, but hopefully he learned something from this whole ordeal and offseason."

You guys have probably all heard this by now but for some who have not.

Back to the line...I really think our line will once again be a strength but in 2006 we had a pretty good D to go with it, and I feel we have the pieces to the Offense (maybe a WR) but the D is ???
JA seems to have recreated 2006 all over again except we have (as Lynch said) a once in every 15 years opportunity QB!

I think its a mistake to talk about changes on the line without mentioning Michael Gaines. I know people like to think of TEs as receivers, but he was specifically brought in for in-line blocking and improving our short yardage run game. When push comes to shove, he's a sixth lineman, not a third or fourth receiver. Considering this was one area (TE blocking support for short yardage runs) where the Lions had some success last year, the Bears already had solid TEs from a receiving standpoint and that this was somewhat of a focal point even in the draft when we picked up Lance Louis... you have to consider that this was identified as an important area to upgrade and that they attacked the need with the type of aggression to solve it.

The Bears are sat up to have some short term success on the line, but there are a couple players that are key for the future, tackle Chris Williams, left guard Frank Omiyale, and even left guard/center Josh Beekman [who could still end up as the starter at left guard,] to name a few. Barring injury, the line will probably look like this, left tackle Pace, left guard Omiyale, center Kreutz, right guard Garza, and right tackle Williams.

I'd like to see Omiyale come on for the Bears, that would go a long way in helping the Bears down the road if he could be the long term answer at left guard. Omiyale has nice size at 6-4 310lbs, and a scouting report on him say's he has a strong lower body and is thickly built from the waist down. This should help the Bears running wise inside. I'd also like to see big Dan Buenning get a shot inside with his 6-4 320lb frame, Buenning is also known for his run blocking. I think the issue with Buenning might be mobility. Chicago likes their guards to be able to get to the second level quickly and seal off the linebackers vs the more mauler stout types like Buenning. One of the main reasons Chicago liked Garza was for his ability to get up field. Garza's not strong at the point of attack, but he is very mobile and is very effective getting up field and sealing off the linebackers. With guards your either gonna have a big mauler that can move the pile like Buenning, or a quicker guard with mobility that can get up field like Garza. If you want both see Minnesota's Steve Hutchinson, hands down the games best interior lineman. And again, not every guard can be Steve Hutchinson. Chicago should be fine with Omiyale and Garza. I still think Chris Williams is gonna surprise some people at tackle this season, but another young tackle is a must next off-season unless 2nd year tackle Cody Balogh can show something, only time will tell. Sorry for the long blog but I seem to have a case of football fever, as always GO BEARS!!

DeputyDawg- To echo your point, go watch what Booger McFarland did to Garza in the Super Bowl. I believe both were 2nd half drives where the Bears had gotten to mid-field or just into Colts territory. In these two situations, a 7 step drop was called for and by the time Rex got the appropriate depth, Booger had spun around Garza was right up in his face. Both of these plays were designed to go deep (or relatively deep). Both were blown up because Garza couldn't block.

2006, D-line-good, O-line-good = Bears Good

Since 2006, D-line-mediocre, O-line-mediocre(at best) = Bears Mediocre

It's really pretty simple. The last couple years the Bears have been losing way too many battles on the line of scrimmage. They have to turn that around.

This year we will have to see. I feel that they have tried. This looks like a major influx of veteran talent in the O-line, but there is more to the O-line than individual talent. Brad has already covered the D-line, but they spent their best draft picks and hired Marinelli.

Y'all can talk about Cutler and receivers all you want, but if they go to Brad's worst case on either of the lines it won't matter. My opinion is that they have really improved. That said, it's hard to turn all the way around from mediocre to good in one year. If they pull it off, Hiestand and Marinelli will deserve some credit.

Anyone remember when Chris Harris of the panthers (formerly of the bears) trucked garza. Embarrassing.

Brad, I stayed away from ST for years because of Jay Mariotti and am only now discovering your tremendous work. You're the best Bears beat writer in town, keep it up!

Kevin,
Not sure we need that young tackle right away. If Williams falters, then absolutely, we should draft them with our first two picks. But if Williams pans out like they hope he does, you have a tackle of the future (ideally the left side, but either side is a possibility), and you can use Omiyale or Shaffer on the other side, and develop a younger guy long term. Expecting anything out of Balogh is a long shot at best. Of course, expecting our coaching staff to develop anyone is also a long shot at best.

All that being said, I think we have to look at the interior of the line as where we need to direct our attention in the short term. Is Buenning a legit option to unseat Garza at RG, or are they only looking at him as a backup center? Right now, we have Kreutz, whose contract is up after next year. Will they bring him back, or will he look for a payday? Or option 3, will he retire to save what's left of his legs and arms for the future? Omiyale is a natural tackle, and may not be a good long-term solution at guard. What if we need to move him back outside? And Garza has his limitations in the run game, where we need the most help if we are indeed a running team. Beekman and Buenning are it for the future, assuming Garza is also not in the long term plans (signed through 2011, but who knows whether he will get to play that out?). And Buenning may not even be in the short term plans, especially if Beekman is capable of backing up Kreutz and both guard spots.
So we basically have 2 guys for three spots, all of which might need upgrading after this season.

My thinking is you watch Williams for the first 10 weeks of the season, and see how he does. If he looks like he can get it done, you start focusing on guards and centers in the draft/free agency. If he can't, then all bets are off, and tackle is the only item on the menu (besides free safety, of course)

Ideally, I would like to see Williams and Shaffer on the edges in 2010, and Omiyale, Beekman, and Buenning in the middle of the line, L to R (if Kreutz hangs it up after this season). If Kreutz is still around, then I want Buenning at RG, and Beekman to be the swing man backup at all 3 interior spots.

We are as deep on the offensive line as any time I can remember, but we also don't know what we have at a lot of those positions. Does Pace still have the ability to be a Pro Bowler on the left? Can Williams play like a first round talent on the right side? Can Omiyale make the switch to guard? That's 3 big question marks on the starting O-line. We need answers to that when the pads come on, and in a hurry, or our entire season could be a mess.

I have to second MSBearsFan"s comments.It really is pretty simple. I would add though that pressure on the opposing passer is also a must if the defense is going to be any good. A running game for the bears with some decent ball control would do wonders for the defense, keeping them fresh enough to provide a pass rush.

Brad what were your feelings about Marrioti? Did he ever really have an understanding of the game?

Dunno if that one is gonna make the cut darlin.

Hey Midge ...

Do we really need to go there?

All forms of media have people designed to 'get everyone pixxed-off ' which really means get everybody yelling an screaming and upset and incite a reaction. Sports talk radio is full of these people and I for one, hate them.

Help me see something I haven't seen, help me be a more aware fan, don't just pixx me off

The Bears have better O-Line then last year, that I don't think there can be any question about. But it is also a higher risk line than last year. I love Orlando Pace, he has been a great player over his career, but this is the end of his career, he is not as good as he once was even when healthy. He is a major health risk as well. Then you have Chris Williams who is also a huge injury risk, not to mention we don;t know if the guy is any good. Having both your starting Tackles as huge injury risks is a very bad thing. There is a better than average chance both go down. If that happens the season is over and Jay Cutler is running for his life.

It all starts with the line, and this line has some questions, Olin and Pace are both in decline, not to say wither are bad, but they are not as good as they once where. Williams is a giant question mark, Omiyale is as well, he has never been a starter. Then you have Garza.

If the Bears are going with Pace and Williams, then shouldn't they have two backup Tackles? Right Now Beekman, Shaffer, Buenning are the backups. The future of this line is also a big question mark, Olin and Pace are not going to play much longer and Williams and Omiyale have proven nothing. Over the next 3 years most of this line will need to be rebuilt. I know Angelo does not believe in building an O-Line in the draft and prefers to bring in FA, but that has never really been a winning formula has it?

Does Jay Cutler seem like the kind of guy who will stick with a team tha is not willing to protect him? Look at the line MS gave him in Denver. Most top QB's will not stick around with a team that does not give them a very good Oline.

In three years Jay could be gone if the Bears do not give him a really good line. I know the Titans would love to have him and he would love to go there. Sure the Bears could Franchise him, but I don't think he would react that well to being franchised. The Bears really need to start focusing on the line in the next few drafts. The Bears really need to start developing some talent so they can trade some of it for draft picks. Watch how the Pats do it, thats how you build a team to win in the NFL.

I think we may have to talk about the future of Olin Kreutz more than anybody. He didn't have a good year last year, and it looked like the entire interior line (not just the guards) was getting pushed around. He is a valuable team-leader, and while I hope it was just a sub-par year, he does have a lot of mileage on him. In 2011 (hopefully) we may have to replace both Orlano Pace and Olin Kreutz at once. We have quality depth now, but those will be large shoes to fill.

Oline, while not as pressing a need as Dline, is a position where I hope the Bears will continue to place a high emphasis on.

They are going to have to address the O line in the draft for the next couple of years even if they do not have a 1st round pick next year.
Picking up a free agent would help get over that if there is anyone worth signing.
Next years draft looks heavy in quality players at OG and OT and the Bears should be able to get a nice player in the 2nd round.
Find a replacement for Garza right there.

Like it or not it is time to find a replacement for Kreutz as well.

why isnt Beekman playing instead of garza? Garza has shown over and over hes not very good at his job.

Once a guy who had a reputation for agility and ability to get to the second level loses what he is known for he becomes a liability. Garza can no loger sustain a block long enough to get to the second level or he gets there by whiffing on the first block. It's easy to block on the backside of a play when you have been put on your backside or you whiff on your man. Garza and Kreutz got mauled by a weak GreenBay defensive line, stuffed by a mediocre Texans d-line and chased of the ball by the Viqueens d-line. Allen had a field day on St.Clair and the Williams wall just plain pushed them backwards. Whats wrong with a mauler at one of the guard spots. They passed on Duke from Okla and Herman from LSU. Look at Pittsburg they lose a all-pro and still go to the Super Bowl and they were strong up the middle. The Giants are strong up the middle the Viqueens are strong up the middle. Get on board Angelo you made a good start don't stop now finish the job built a big pouding o-line. FIX THAT WEAK MIDDLE.

Deputy Dawg, the Bears are stong up the middle. In an ESPN review of the best run blocking offensive linemen Garza was rated as one of the five best after they reviewed tape. Omiyale is a mauler and I think that Kruetz will be better. I think that perception isnt reality in this case.

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This page contains a single entry by Brad Biggs published on July 20, 2009 5:36 AM.

12 days to Camp: Pro Bowl WR not needed for Super Bowl winners was the previous entry in this blog.

Report: Garza was Bears' top lineman, one of league's best guards is the next entry in this blog.

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