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Center Olin Kreutz (ribs/back) is expected to return to practice this afternoon after missing the last two days.

Coach Lovie Smith said on Wednesday that he expected Kreutz to be able to start Sunday night. The veteran has missed just one game, in 2002, since the start of the 2001 season. That means Josh Beekman will likely be in place at left guard for the meeting with Philadelphia.

Center Olin Kreutz remained sidelined at practice for the second consecutive day today.

The veteran missed Monday's 75-minute practice, and it wasn't a veteran's day off if he's still sideline today. He completed the game last Thursday at San Francisco, but may have suffered some type of rib injury. We'll see if more details are available after practice and when the injury report is released.

Kreutz has a long history of durability and has missed just one game since the start of the 2001 season, a 2002 matchup at St. Louis after he had his appendix removed. The guess here is he's ready to play Sunday night.

Early returns on Pro Bowl fan balloting don't support the Bears.

Not surprisingly, there are Minnesota Vikings leading or among the leaders at many positions.

When you win, your fans show up at the polls (with multiple ballots). But the Bears' skid of late has kept their supporters away from the polls, so far.

In the first numbers released by the league, the Bears have three players among the leading vote getters at their position:

Center Olin Kreutz, 5th

Returner Devin Hester, 3rd

Outside linebacker Lance Briggs, 5th

BOURBONNAIS, Ill.--A week into training camp, the Bears have found some help on the interior of the line.

A league source said that the club will sign Donovan Raiola this afternoon provided he passes his physical. Raiola was waived Tuesday by the Arizona Cardinals. Of course, the team thought it had an answer to some depth issues earlier in the week when it claimed Maurice Miller off waivers from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He arrived and failed his physical.

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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Some observers speculated that Roberto Garza's standing as the right guard was in jeopardy after the Bears signed Frank Omiyale to a contract just hours into free agency.

That's proven not to be the case--Omiyale is the favorite to lock down the left guard job when training camp opens. Just today another observer produced evidence that helps explain why Garza isn't going anywhere. KC Joyner, author and publisher of The Football Scientist, was kind of enough to share with us his run blocking metrics after just completing film analysis of the Bears. He's halfway through the NFC North (having also completed a review of the Detroit Lions) and Joyner has already knocked out the AFC East, NFC West, NFC East, AFC North and AFC South, meaning he's nearly three-fourths of the way through the league with just the AFC West and NFC South remaining after he polishes off Green Bay and Minnesota.

What do his findings show? Not only was Garza the best lineman for the Bears last season, he was among the best right guards in football. His numbers are superior to some Pro Bowl guards. Before we jump into the numbers, let's try to make sense of them.

Joyner's system, which will be published in Scientific Football 2009 a little later on this summer, is based on what he calls the Point of Attack (or POA). It tracks how often a blocker is at the POA where a running play is directed. We'll let him describe it:

"It is not based on the location of the block but rather specifically tracks which blockers were actually at the point of attack. A POA block is considered to be successful (i.e. a POA win) if the blocker created a lane through which the runner could go.


"If the blocker is beaten at the POA, I segment those losses into five categories: Gap stuff (blocker gets stopped at POA); Defeated block (defender gets past blocker at POA); Pushed into backfield/POA (blocker gets moved into backfield/POA and negatively impacts runner's progress); Penetration (defender gets past blocker and makes contact with ballcarrier in backfield); Stringout (defender strings run to outside out). The last formula takes into account run penalties. An offensive penalty (i.e. holding, illegal use of hands, etc.) counts as a POA loss and a defensive penalty as a POA win."

Joyner considers an 80 percent net POA winning percentage to be acceptable. He charts the number of yards gained/lost on each POA run for a lineman. The chart below shows that not only did Garza do well last season, so did Josh Beekman, who will be in competition with Omiyale at left guard.

Lineman POA attempts Yards Avg. POA Pct.

RG Roberto Garza 205 960 4.7 88.3
LG Josh Beekman 175 834 4.8 85.7
RT John Tait 104 443 4.3 84.6
C Olin Kreutz 168 726 4.3 81.5
LT John St. Clair 112 459 4.1 79.5

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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.

Welcome to our countdown to training camp.

The Bears will report to Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., in 29 days. The beginning of the 2009 season and the first training camp practice is 30 days away.

We've been away for a little bit--some of the vacation was of the unpaid variety and not by choice--but we're back. We'll cover all the angles here every day leading up to the most anticipated camp we've seen in nine years. Yes, we're saying there is more buzz about camp this summer than two years ago when the Bears were coming off their appearance in Super Bowl XLI. If you can imagine it, we'll probably tackle it right here in the next 30 days, starting with a poll. Go ahead and weigh in on what the most critical issue facing the Bears is heading to camp. We'll assess the options in the poll next week. We'll also visit with a Four Down Territory next week, so fire away with your questions.

Now to the voting station.

Time for a look at some interesting numbers that Jason La Canfora, new to NFL.com, came up with. He took a look at the real dollar figures in the NFL over the last five seasons. Not the salary cap but committed cash, the actual amount of money teams paid players. We all know teams can spend well above and beyond the cap each season when large bonus payments (spread over multiple seasons) come into play. Right here, La Canfora breaks it down and has the Bears 21st in the league in spending at $495.57 million from 2004 through 2008. That is more than $70 million less than the biggest spender on the list--Jerry Jones.

Here is now the NFC North breaks down:

5. Minnesota $526.87 million

15. Detroit $505.04 million

21. Bears $495.57 million

30. Green Bay $457.16 million

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We have received questions throughout the offseason about the status of right guard Roberto Garza. The latest comes from Alan T. in Chicago:

"If Josh Beekman and Frank Omiyale are in competition for the left guard job, what's going on at right guard? Is anyone pushing Roberto Garza for his job?''

Maybe we can shed some light on this issue. Besides Omiyale's brief appearance at right tackle in March when the coaching staff didn't have enough offensive linemen to run a full minicamp (talk about a scheduling snafu), he's been used strictly at left guard from everything we've seen.

Recently, Beekman and Omiyale have started splitting time at left guard although no decision is imminent on that position. Most expect Omiyale to win that spot, and his contract would certainly indicate the Bears believe he will be in the lineup. Omiyale is getting more than half of the $11.5 million base value in his four-year contract this season.

Offensive coordinator Ron Turner said in March that Dan Buenning, acquired via trade from Tampa Bay at the start of last season, could compete with Garza at right guard. We have not seen Buenning with the first team in drills to this point. That doesn't mean it hasn't happened, but we haven't seen it. Turner emphasized the coaching staff was happy with Garza's performance.

It's difficult to judge individual offensive line play with statistics, but here are some interesting numbers we've looked at courtesy of Elias Sports Bureau. They seem to support Garza.

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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.

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.

Here we go with our final Four Down Territory edition of the week. With the draft rapidly approaching, we'll hit a Q&A Monday through Friday next week doing our best to answer all of the draft questions you might have. Let's get right to it.

Q: It seems like the Bears have had so-called easy schedules the last few years based on the opponents' winning percentage the previous year and the easiest of all 32 this year. I'm wondering how well the previous year's win percentage actually correlates with the next year's win percentage. In other words does the preseason strength of schedule actually tell us much about how tough the actual season ends up being?

Julie R., Michigan

A: That's a good question and in order to do our best answering it we've crunched a few numbers. We've also got a link here to a good story by ESPN's John Clayton earlier this week that touches on this very subject. Clayton points out that the first-place schedule has been a tough collar for the NFC South winner to wear each year. In five of the last seven seasons, the NFC South champion from the previous year has finished last. Certainly a tough schedule was not much of an obstacle for some very good teams in 2008. Pittsburgh (1st), Indianapolis (2nd), Baltimore (4th) and Minnesota (5th) all faced supposedly difficult scheduled this past season and all four clubs reached the postseason. We took a look at the strength of schedule for every playoff team the past four seasons. Here is what we found:

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This page is an archive of recent entries in the Olin Kreutz category.

Offseason minicamp/workouts is the previous category.

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