The Bears officially parted ways with offensive tackle/guard Chris Williams -- the 14th overall selection in the 2008 draft -- on Tuesday.
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Chris Williams was told on Wednesday he will be the starting left tackle on Sunday.
Apparently no one has said anything to Kevin Shaffer, but he is the man who is expected to line up at right tackle Sunday against the St. Louis Rams at Soldier Field as Orlando Pace will be sidelined for a little while with a groin muscle injury.
"If that's the case it's something I've been working for all year, starting with training camp and everything and right tackle's my position, I've been at for the last couple years, so that'd be great,'' Shaffer said. "I don't know what the situation is, I really don't. I know today I practiced with the ones, but what it is in the future I don't know.''
The Bears essentially swapped John St. Clair to the Cleveland Browns in free agency for Shaffer, who was released after he refused a pay cut. He had started 79 of the last 80 regular-season games for the Browns and Atlanta Falcons before arriving, and played the last two seasons in Cleveland as the right tackle. Before Pace was signed, it looked like the Bears would line up Shaffer at right tackle and Williams at left tackle.
The left tackle of the future is the left tackle for now as Chris Williams will be moved to that position for Sunday's game against the St. Louis Rams with veteran Orlando Pace expected to miss with a groin muscle injury.
That's the spot the Bears were going to play the first-round pick from Vanderbilt at last season before he went down with a back injury on the second day of training camp and eventually required surgery. Frank Omiyale is expected to remain at left guard and veteran Kevin Shaffer will play right tackle.
MINNEAPOLIS--As bad as the Bears' running game has been this season--the joke going around this week was they no longer get off the bus running, they get off a minivan running--they're going to have to be able to throw the ball this afternoon against the Vikings to have success.
That means they're going to have to keep the pocket clean for quarterback Jay Cutler, and that's something the offense has struggled to do this season against pass rushers far less accomplished than the Minnesota front four. Jared Allen leads the NFL in sacks since being drafted in 2004 with 68. He's got 10 1/2 this season and terrorized the Bears for 4 1/2 last season. The thinking in getting Orlando Pace--and it's not like general manager Jerry Angelo had a bounty of options when John Tait surprised the team by surprising--was that he'd definitely improve pass protection.
Pace played a solid game last week vs. Philadelphia's Trent Cole, a compact, high-energy guy that some figured would give the lumbering Pace fits. Now, the bar is raised with Allen, the Vikings' right end. Pace has some familiarity with him. The Rams and Chiefs, where Allen came from, play every year in preseason. Pace has faced him once in the regular season in 2006 in a game in which Allen had two sacks of St. Louis quarterback Marc Bulger.
"Jared is having a good year,'' Pace said. "I've played him a few times. You know he's a guy who is going to give a lot of effort on every play. He's going to keep coming. So you have to really block him to the whistle. But he's having a really good year. He's a younger guy [when I played him before], so he probably gotten a lot better.''
Chris Williams has more penalties than any other player on the Bears with five, and his most recent cost him.
The right tackle was fined $5,000 for unnecessarily striking an opponent late in the loss to San Francisco last week. Williams jumped over the pile to hit a 49er after the play was over at the start of what the Bears hoped would be the game-winning drive.
Spent some time before kickoffs to the games on Sunday taking a look at the Bears' situation with those pesky yellow flags the officials seem to be throwing on a more frequent basis.
The Bears tied their season high with 10 penalties in Thursday's loss at San Francisco, and they have had nine or more penalties in four of the nine games. Entering Sunday's games, only one team had more penalties (61) and one team had more yards penalized (509) than the Bears, but obviously that changed with the action. We'll get a clear look at where they rank in the league after the fantastically unappealing Monday night tilt this evening between Baltimore and Cleveland. The Browns could use a break from prime time.
So here's what I found ... with 61 penalties for 509 yards, the Bears are pretty much on pace for what their average is under Lovie Smith. The team had a low in the Smith era of 78 penalties for only 610 yards last season. The average in five seasons under Smith is 106 penalties for 836 yards. At the current pace, the 2009 Bears will finish with 108 penalties for 905 yards.
Let's look at the annual numbers:
* 124 penalties set a franchise high
I have a comprehensive breakdown of every type of penalty and who committed what infraction below. But first, it's time to acknowledge some terrific work done by Greg Bedard at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Yes, the Green Bay Packers have been having their own penalty problems and entered Sunday's game vs. Dallas with 62 penalties, one more than the Bears with one less game played. He cited some work by the fine folks at Football Outsiders that proved that there is very little to link a team's record and the accumulation of defensive and special-teams penalties.
"In their 2007 Pro Football Prospectus, Aaron Schatz and Bill Barnwell from footballoutsiders.com studied penalties from 2002-'06. They found there was "almost zero" correlation between record and defensive or special-team penalties. There was, however, a much stronger correlation with offensive penalties."
Unfortunately, 30 of the Bears' 61 penalties count against the offense, a result of 15 false starts. Right tackle Chris Williams is credited with a team-high five penalties, four of them false starts although there was one false start assigned to the team and replays showed it was likely he was the guilty party. Quarterback Jay Cutler has committed four penalties himself. The Bears have been called for six personal fouls--five unnecessary roughness call and one unsportsmanlike conduct--and they have also been hit with three facemask infractions.
Certainly one of the things that jumped out also was that the Bears have nine offside penalties vs. the defense. That's the same type of a infraction as a false start for the offense and when a team has 24 of those combined, well, that's an issue. Smith has downplayed penalties to this point, and said they're uncharacteristic. If uncharacteristic means he understands they're on pace for pretty much what they average under him, he's correct.
Here is a breakdown of all the penalties:
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.
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.
Final results are in because, well, we decided it was time to close the polls on our question that started our countdown to training camp last Wednesday.
The question was posed -- We're in July! It's football season! What is the Bears' biggest issue heading into camp in Bourbonnais, Ill.?
More than 1,400 votes later (I'm pretty sure there are more than 1,400 of you out there to vote), the No. 1 concern (among the five responses we created) was how the defensive line will turn around under new coach Rod Marinelli.
Here is how voting broke down:
1. It starts in the trenches and this team will not get any better defensively unless Rod Marinelli does indeed possess the magic touch with that line. 35% (493 votes)
2. Jay Cutler is a great addition, but it's about the defense. Can Lovie Smith the Play Caller turn around this unit that has struggled at times for two seasons? 32% (444 votes)
3. Umm, exactly who is going to line up at free safety? I'm not sure the team addressed this position during an eventful offseason. 19% (267 votes)
4. Umm, Jay Cutler is going to throw the ball to who? I'm not sure the team can count on its wide receivers. 10% (144 votes)
5. It starts in the trenches and from the looks of things the offensive line will have three new starters. Don't overlook the obvious. 4% (59 votes)
Thought it would be interesting to turn back the clock a year and look at some of the storylines surrounding the Bears at that time and how they turned out.
We ran a list of 10 issues facing the organization entering training camp in the print edition last July. We'll include a short synopsis of each one.
1. QB derby. Amid swirling rumors that the Bears may have interest in Chris Simms as a No. 3 quarterback, we still don't know who the No. 1 will be. Leave it to the Bears to do this.
ONE YEAR LATER: What a difference that one year makes. The addition of Jay Cutler via trade with the Denver Broncos makes this the most-anticipated training camp in years. While quarterback carousels dominated camp news in the past the hope is that Cutler will lock down the position for close to a decade. That doesn't mean Cutler won't be a daily storyline in camp. Prepare for QB stories written every which way.
2. Defense first. The Bears plummeted to 28th in team defense last season and it's yet to be determined if it was an injury-induced aberration, or a signal that Bob Babich could be on the hot seat.
ONE YEAR LATER: That defense didn't perform a whole lot better in 2008 and injuries were not reason to blame. Babich has effectively been demoted and Lovie Smith will now call the plays on defense. This remains a valid question moving into 2009. Can the Bears' defense return to championship form? The Bears have tried changing players, they've invested heavily in many players and they've certainly shuffled through an inordinate number of coaches on the defensive side of the ball. Next to come under real fire could be the defensive scheme if things don't change. Rod Marinelli represents the fourth line coaching for Smith entering his sixth season as head coach. Babich will be the third linebackers coach in as many seasons. Jon Hoke becomes the fourth secondary coach.
3. Face of the franchise. This could all of a sudden become the No. 1 storyline if Brian Urlacher's ongoing contract squabble blows up. Even if he isn't in camp--and who knows what the chances are for this--he'll be game ready come the regular season because he's a workout warrior. Some have been concerned about a decline in play because he didn't make the Pro Bowl, but at the end of last season Urlacher was playing as well as any defensive player in the league.
ONE YEAR LATER: Urlacher's contract demands were met with an $18 million, one-year extension but Cutler could fast become the face of the franchise. Now two years removed from the Pro Bowl, Urlacher is being paid like an elite player. Perhaps he will benefit from Smith running the defense.
4. Line dance. None of the other rebuilding phases on offense will be particularly successful if the overhauled line doesn't mesh. Rookie Chris Williams will be the key and his development in the coming weeks at left tackle is critical.
ONE YEAR LATER: The Bears managed to do fine on the line last season and Williams had nothing to do with the success. Line coach Harry Hiestand has quietly done a terrific job for several seasons and there's another rebuilding project in the works that finds Williams on the right side this time. The key this time around could be keeping left tackle Orlando Pace healthy but the emergence of Williams is essential not just for this season but for the longterm. The good thing is the Bears have plenty of depth here.
5. Born to run. There certainly won't be a distraction this summer with Cedric Benson having to answer a myriad of questions unrelated to his failed efforts to live up to his status as the fourth pick in the '05 draft. Matt Forte certainly won't be under pressure to exceed Benson's production. It's about replacing Thomas Jones, remember him? Forte is a gifted runner who the Bears believe is a first-round talent.
ONE YEAR LATER: The Bears were on the money when they said Forte was a first-round talent. Preserving him will be key this season as he wore down by season's end. Forte can be one of the top backs in the league while still sharing some of the work with a rejuvenated Kevin Jones.
The last thing Jerry Angelo wants to go through again is a recurrence of the Chris Williams' situation. The Bears' general manager says the team will take a "more disciplined'' approach to considering players this weekend with medical issues or red flags.
The organization drafted Williams 14th overall last year knowing that he had a "stabile herniation'' in his back. Putting Angelo and the team at ease in the decision process was Williams' history at Vanderbilt. He hadn't missed games and his practice history was nearly spotless. The back wasn't an issue ... until training camp began. Williams looked like a hobbled old man arriving and leaving practice for two weeks. The club said the issue was muscular at first, that he had spasms. It didn't get better. Then, it was announced he'd had surgery. Turns out the surgery was on the same disc that had a "stabile herniation." As Angelo and trainer Tim Bream explained, you can have an injury to a different part of the disc and it can be completely unrelated to the previous "stabile herniation."
A firestorm erupted and the bottom line was Williams' rookie season was essentially wiped out. He played on special teams and in garbage time in the second half of the year. The team believes he'll be no worse for the wear moving forward.
"Last year we made a conscious decision and we talked about it as an organization and [college scouting director] Greg [Gabriel] and I spent a lot of time on this too, but yes, we are looking at that and we are going to be more disciplined in our approach to taking players with medical concerns, and I want to emphasize that,'' Angelo said Tuesday. "There are in my opinion more players and it was asked about what makes the draft more difficult, that's one of them, there just seems to be more wear and tear on players. Maybe it's the way we evaluate them, we're so finite at the combine.
It's simple to predict what the Bears' depth chart at quarterback is going to look like.
1. Jay Cutler
2. Caleb Hanie
3. Brett Basanez
1. Jay Cutler
2. Brett Basanez
3. Caleb Hanie
Sorting through the offensive line after the addition of Orlando Pace, things are not as clearly defined. Let's give it a try though:
We've about reached the peak of mock draft season now that we're 33 days away from the NFL draft.
Offensive tackle and wide receiver are popping up most frequently as the positions the Bears will address, you know, if they don't deal the pick and more ransom to the Denver Broncos for Jay Cutler.
We'll certainly look more closely at who the Bears will be targeting in the days and weeks to come. But for now, let's examine the cost of the first-round pick. There's never a cookie cutter deal to work off of in the NFL, but unless the Bears surprise many and draft a quarterback, the contract of the 18th pick from 2008 will not be real applicable for the Bears.
That is the pick the Baltimore Ravens used to grab quarterback Joe Flacco last year. Quarterback contracts are always a little different, as we'll illustrate below.