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Offensive line coach Harry Hiestand made it clear when Josh Beekman was inserted into the starting lineup at left guard at the start of the month that the Bears were not writing off the man he replaced, Frank Omiyale.

Sure enough, Omiyale resurfaced in Thursday's loss at San Francisco, replacing Beekman at the two-minute warning while the Bears mounted a comeback effort that fell 12 yards short. Beekman struggled with 49ers defensive end Justin Smith at the beginning of the drive, and the switch was made.

"[Smith] was a big, strong guy. I was coming out battling him,'' Beekman said. "They just wanted to get Frank in there, he's a little bigger, against the guy. It almost worked.''

Beekman said as far as he knows he remains with the first team, and offensive coordinator Ron Turner should be able to address that issue later today. What the move back to Omiyale at the key point in the game does, though, is highlight the reason why the Bears set out in the offseason to find a bigger, more physical replacement for Beekman. That's not to say Beekman didn't do some things well in the game. About the only thing the offense did with any consistency was run some screen passes to running back Matt Forte to the left side, and Beekman and center Olin Kreutz did a nice job getting out on those plays and blocking.

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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.

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.

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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.

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Q: Wide receiver is the Bears' biggest need in the draft but count me among the crowd that is concerned they will be looking at the 8th or 9th wide receiver by the time their pick comes up. If that is the case, why draft a receiver that not only might not make much impact this season, but might not be anything down the road? Really what I want to know is what else Jerry Angelo could look at if he doesn't take a receiver?

Evan E., Chicago

A: You make a valid point and I believe it's the same thing the Bears have been mulling over for a couple weeks now. Do they pick a receiver to fill a glaring need for depth just to have one, or do they consider a player with a far better grade at a different position? It is all going to depend on how the draft board falls. I think it is safe to say that if they don't pull the trigger on a receiver that they will most assuredly being going with defense.

Maybe you wonder why Angelo would not consider an offensive lineman. Well, he laid out a pretty good reason earlier this week. The Bears already have eight veteran offensive linemen they will carry. Adding a ninth will force them to trim from elsewhere on the 53-man roster. Angelo feels better about his line than he has in some time. They believe line coach Harry Hiestand does a terrific job, particularly after last season, and they will not look at the line early in the draft. Quarterback, running back and tight end are not need areas, so we turn to the defense.

The Bears are set at linebacker for this season and the history of Angelo and coach Lovie Smith is for them to draft defensive linemen and defensive backs in quantity.

At defensive end, which is where the Bears have a need with three players heading into the final year of their contract, I don't know if there is a player who will fit their scheme that will be on the board. Northern Illinois' Larry English could slide into the second round, but won't go that far and he doesn't match what the Bears are seeking. There are a couple of nice players at the top of the list but they will be gone.

Need No. 3--Offensive tackle

Players on roster

LT Orlando Pace (signed through 2011)
RT Chris Williams (2012)
OT Kevin Shaffer (2011)
OT Cody Balogh (2010)

Need

The order we have been using for the Bears' needs comes from the file we produced for the Sporting News. That order was changed after the Jay Cutler trade and signing of Orlando Pace, and while we updated the list for the magazine, we were going off the old one. We wrote Wednesday that free safeties were next, and that's changed. So, you can easily determine that free safety and wide receiver are the two positions remaining. We apologizing for any confusion. On with the breakdown and explanation of need. General manager Jerry Angelo said on Tuesday that drafting a lineman, not just a tackle, would put the Bears in the unfamiliar position of having to carry nine linemen on the 53-man roster. The team already has eight veterans in place--Pace, Williams, Shaffer, Frank Omiyale, Olin Kreutz, Roberto Garza, Josh Beekman and Dan Buenning. A team can carry a ninth lineman but that spot would have to come from somewhere else--a third quarterback or a fifth running back (tailbacks and fullbacks combined) would have to be sacrificed, as an example.

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Bears offensive line coach Harry Hiestand put Ball State's Robert Brewster through more than three hours of drills and classroom work this morning in a private workout in Muncie, Ind., a source said.

Brewster played right tackle at Ball State but some clubs are looking at him as a guard. He started 50 consecutive games and is durable with experience. He has good footwork and good size at 6-4, 325 pounds. He did work in the classroom with Hiestand for roughly 90 minutes, going over formations and looks as they talked schemes.

Jerry Angelo just got an extra $4 million to spend.

That doesn't mean he's going to rush into free agency when it begins in a little more than 27 hours.

Adam Schefter of the NFL Network reported that the salary cap, which was expected to be at $123 million for 2009, has been bumped up to $127 million.

"Because teams didn't spend as much as they were supposed to under the collective bargaining agreement the past three years, teams were notified Wednesday that the salary cap will increase over $4 million to $127 million for this coming year, according to sources with two NFL teams. The collective bargaining agreement calls for cap adjustment down if teams spend over the cap in cash and adjustment up if they don't spend up to the cap."

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