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We reached out to KC Joyner to go over some of the run blocking metrics he completed after film review of the Bears. The numbers showed that right guard Roberto Garza was not only the Bears' most efficient run blocker last season, he was one of the best guards in the game, ranking ahead of the three Pro Bowlers Joyner has final numbers for--Chris Snee, Leonard Davis and Alan Faneca.

"If you ask me about the 22 teams I've run the numbers on so far, he is probably the second most surprising,'' said Joyner, who will publish the results and more in Scientific Football 2009. "[New York Jets center] Nick Mangold is probably the most surprising. I knew Mangold was good but he is head and shoulders above any other center and will probably be the highest ranked POA lineman [94.3 percent] when I am done in another two weeks.

"The last time I did this, in 2005, Garza was in the low 80's and for him to be [at 88.3] is a little surprising in that he's ahead of these Pro Bowl guards. I love doing the numbers, watching the tape and then running the numbers. In most cases the numbers agree with what you say in scouting, `This player is this and that.' Usually, the metrics follow what you're seeing in scouting. Whenever the two disagree, I lean on the metrics more than scouting. You can see a player have one bad play and in the back of your mind, `He stinks.' The metrics don't care. The one bad play will be registered and then `Let's see the other 150 he had.'''

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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.

It all starts up front.

That is what general manager Jerry Angelo has always said and that is the way the Bears went around constructing this offseason, even if the blockbuster trade to acquire Jay Cutler is the move that still dominates the spotlight. But Angelo didn't want to lose sight of the line on Tuesday afternoon when discussing the club's moves to this point.

"Obviously, the quarterback position speaks volumes,'' Angelo said. "I think we all sleep better at night. He saves lives. But going forward, we've got to do other things to help him. We feel our offensive line, and I want you all to understand this to, when you're building on offense or defense, you have to have a philosophy. Our philosophy was to build that offensive line. We want to protect the quarterback first and then we want to supply him with the needed weapons. So I felt like we were able to do that.

"Our pro department [Bobby DePaul] did an excellent job of identifying some players young and old and we feel real good about our offensive line and that was a concern coming out of the season. Now, we're building inside-out and we're going to look at some of the perimeter people. Yes, we feel real good about having our quarterback and running back in place."

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

or

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:

Deep into the second wave of free agency, the old and sometimes broken down offensive tackles on the open market are starting to get some action.

On the heels of John St. Clair's signing Tuesday in Cleveland where he received a $600,000 signing bonus as part of a $9 million, three-year contract, there is some movement. Former St. Louis Rams all-pro Orlando Pace will visit with the Baltimore Ravens today. On the other coast, Marvel Smith, who represented the Pittsburgh Steelers in a Pro Bowl, will visit the San Francisco 49ers.

The Bears, meanwhile, will line up Cody Balogh at right tackle this afternoon in minicamp practice No. 2 unless the Frank Omiyale-to-left-guard plan is a thing of the past after one day. Take a deep breath for a moment. The regular season does not begin for six months. As we wrote the other day, Lovie Smith could race over to Lake Forest College and grab a lineman to put at right tackle for three days in a non-contact minicamp. The Bears have options and while none of them scream Keith Van Horne or Big Cat Williams, not now any way, let's be honest here. Re-signing St. Clair and lining him up at right tackle wasn't a longterm solution. The Bears are working to get younger (and maybe bigger) on the line. Re-signing St. Clair probably would not have altered or delayed a goal to draft a tackle next month. The Bears valued St. Clair as a backup and that was reflected in the offer they made him.

At this point, John St. Clair figures he's headed out into the open market.

Free agency begins in two weeks, on Feb. 27, and the veteran offensive tackle has yet to hear from the Bears.

"I feel I have no choice,'' St. Clair said. "If you haven't heard anything, of course you're going to the market. I haven't heard anything as of yet. I'm just down here [in Florida] enjoying my time off.''

One more Four Down Territory on Friday, so shoot in your questions now. We're going to suspend the Q&A next week (we'll try to get one done) while we're covering Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa. Don't worry, we'll resume in a big way after the season officially comes to an end.

Q: What is your opinion on the running back situation? Do the Bears bring back Kevin Jones or try to turn Garrett Wolfe into their own version of Darren Sproles? Jones was basically on the shelf all year and should be healthier than he was when he joined the roster. Do they draft a running back and cut Jones? Also, what's Roberto Garza's contract situation? I still think that while the line stayed together all year and played better than ANYONE expected, the Bears still need more interior push in the run game. I'm still sold on Olin Kreutz but I'm starting to wonder about Garza.

Ray, Connecticut

Barton claimed by Dolphins

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Kirk Barton will not be returning to the Bears.

The rookie seventh-round pick, who was waived Wednesday to make room for veteran Fred Miller, was claimed off waivers this afternoon by the Miami Dolphins. He will join the Dolphins' 53-man roster.

Barton, a four-year starter at Ohio State, was the No. 3 tackle almost from the start of training camp with top pick Chris Williams being injured, and he played extensively in preseason giving the Dolphins and every other team plenty of tape to scout.

The Bears are planning to bring back offensive tackle Kirk Barton to the practice squad this afternoon provided he clears waivers, a league source said.

Barton was released Wednesday to make room for veteran Fred Miller.

After a month of talking with Fred Miller about a return to the the Bears, the club and the player have reached agreement.

A source close to the player said the 35-year-old offensive tackle will sign a one-year contract to serve as a backup offensive tackle and should be on the practice field this afternoon at Halas Hall.

Miller worked out for the Bears on Tuesday and after the team swung and missed in its bid to claim James Marten, a third-round pick from Dallas in 2007 who was released Saturday, off waivers on Monday, it apparently went back to Plan A and got a deal done with Miller.

The Bears might not be done reworking their offensive line after the trade for guard Dan Buenning last week.

In fact, they made a move for a tackle on Monday only to lose out.

The Bears placed a waiver claim for James Marten, who was released by the Dallas Cowboys on Saturday, but the the third-round pick from 2007 was awarded to the Oakland Raiders, the other team to submit a claim for him.

Dallas had to clear a roster spot to sign a fourth wide receiver, Mike Jefferson, for its game at Cleveland and the team's plan was to add Marten to the practice squad. It's interesting because in choosing to part ways with a high draft pick, the Cowboys kept 11 defensive backs. That gives you an idea of how he had advanced for them. Marten was inactive for every game last season, and spent some time working at guard this summer.

Dan Buenning Q&A

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Offensive linemen can be a pretty reserved bunch. They never get too high, never get too low and typically let their actions speak for them. So Dan Buenning was about as excited as you'll catch a lineman Tuesday afternoon a short while after he was informed Tampa Bay had traded him to the Bears for the Bucs' sixth-round pick that they already held from the Brian Griese deal.

Buenning worked at center this summer and had more or less been fazed out in Tampa after a strong start to his career there which began when he was a fourth-round pick out of Wisconsin in 2005. He was one of only four rookie linemen in the league to start all 16 games that season and looked to be a fixture for years to come. But then he tore an ACL on Thanksgiving Day in 2006 and when Tampa Bay went young at guard last season with Arron Sears and Davin Joseph, he was on the sideline looking in.

With Jeff Faine getting a big contract to play center for the Bucs, and with another draft pick invested in an interior lineman to add Rutgers' Jeremy Zuttah, who the Bears took a good look at before the draft, Buenning looked out of the mix. He became really out of the mix Tuesday when Tampa Bay swung a deal to acquire Sean Mahan from Pittsburgh.

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