2010 NFL Question Marks: Chicago Bears

CHICAGO - DECEMBER 22: Members of the Chicago Bear offensive line including Olin Kreutz #57, Roberto Garza #63 and John Tait #76 line-up in front of the Green Bay Packer defense on December 22, 2008 at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois. The Bears defeated the Packers 20-17 in overtime. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Merry training camp season, everyone. It’s been a long offseason, but football is finally gearing up again and to celebrate I’m rolling out a new series on TSR entitled “2010 NFL Question Marks,” where I discuss one or two of the biggest concerns that teams have heading into the new season. Granted, some teams have more issues than others, but I’ll primarily be focusing on the biggest problem areas. Today I’ll be discussing the Bears and their continued concerns along the offensive line.

Once again, expectations are high in the “Windy City.” A year after trading for quarterback Jay Cutler, the Bears hired offensive coordinator Mike Martz in hopes that the “Mad Scientist” will transform his new gunslinger back into a Pro Bowler. But does Cutler have the horses up front to protect him?

Some still point to the Bears’ receivers as being the team’s biggest weakness. But with Devin Hester, Johnny Knox, Devin Aromashodu and Earl Bennett, Chicago should be fine at wideout – especially in Martz’s system. In fact, Hester and Knox could be in store for breakout years.

But the offensive line is the position that remains a huge issue. Olin Kreutz remains the team’s best linemen after turning in a banner 2009 campaign, but he needs to cut down on his penalties after committing six last year. If he can, he remains the only player on the Bears’ O-line that plays at an elite level.

Of course, the hope is that former first round pick Chris Williams can be that kind of player soon. A back injury limited him during his rookie year in 2008 and until he moved to left tackle, he struggled mightily in ’09. Through the first 10 games last season, he gave up five sacks, eight hits and 24 hurries. But after taking over for the equally pitiful Orlando Pace in Week 13, Williams finished well down the stretch, giving the team hope for his future.

The left guard position will be occupied by veteran Roberto Garza, who, like Krutez, played well last season. He’s a mauler in the run game and was adequate in pass protection. Along with Krutez, he gives the Bears a decent interior.

The right side, however, remains the team’s biggest concern. The Bears’ coaching staff has loved what it has seen out of left guard Lance Louis, who is quick and agile. The only problem is that he’s highly untested after the team selected him in the seventh round last year. Assuming he holds onto the position through the preseason, he’ll get his first taste as a starter in the league and therefore, he remains a relative unknown.

At right tackle is Frank Omiyale, who has yet to prove he’s a good fit in Chicago. The Falcons selected him in the fifth round of the ’05 draft because he fit Alex Gibbs’ zone-blocking scheme. The Bears tried him at guard last year and he played poorly, and thus far he hasn’t been impressive in camp either. Martz even went as far as to say recently that Omiyale, “isn’t where we’d like him to be.”

The other concern with Omiyale is his penchant to jump offsides. He often gets inside his own head and loses focus. If he continues to struggle, the Bears could look at long-time veteran Kevin Shaffer or youngster J’Marcus Webb, a massive rookie from West Texas A&M.

Cutler struggled mightily last year because of lack of protection, poor decision-making and the inexperience of his receiving corps. The Bears are hoping that those three issues will be solved by the regular season, but any one of them could resurface during the year. It also doesn’t help that Martz is often criticized for leaving his quarterback exposed too often in his system.

Even though expectations are high, the Bears could have a recipe for disaster after GM Jerry Angelo failed to upgrade the O-line this offseason. That doesn’t mean that they won’t contend for a playoff spot in 2010, but Da Bears have bigger concerns than many think.

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