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.

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Offensive line has potential to be a concern for Bears

In the weeks leading up to the kickoff the 2008 NFL Season, I’ll take a look at position groups that could potentially lift teams to new heights, or bury them and their postseason hopes. Today I take a look at the potential offensive line issues for the Chicago Bears.

When previewing the Chicago Bears in 2008, many football pundits will focus on whether or not Kyle Orton can lead this team back to the playoffs or ask if Devin Hester can be an effective No. 1 receiver. But are they concentrating on the wrong position group in Chicago?

A once dominant unit just a few years ago, age and ineffective play has slowly made Chicago’s offensive line a potential weakness. There’s no question Olin Kreutz is a rock at the center of the Bears’ o-line, but what’s around him?

Chicago decided not to address their offensive line via free agency and instead concentrated on the draft. The team selected former Vanderbilt offensive tackle Chris Williams with the 14th overall pick in the first round, even though prospects Branden Albert and Jeff Otah were rated higher by scouts.

Projected as a potential starter at left tackle, Williams had to undergo back surgery in early August and now might miss the entire 2008 season. His potential replacement will be John St. Clair, a veteran who has struggled mightily when given the opportunity to start.

Joining Williams on the walking wounded list is Terrence Metcalf, who will miss a couple of weeks after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery in early August. His main competition at left guard is Josh Beekman, who offers more potential and versatility than Metcalf, but has never started an NFL game after being selected in the fourth round of the 2007 draft.

Roberto Garza is projected as the starter at right guard and at right tackle is John Tait. Garza isn’t a spectacular player by any means, but he’s a solid run blocker. Same goes for Tait, who can handle his own in the running game, but often struggles against speedy end rushers.

While offensive line isn’t as big of a weakness as wide receiver for the Bears (and any line that has Kreutz at center could be far worse off), the position has to be a concern entering the season. St. Clair will be counted on to keep Orton upright, while Beekman is incredibly inexperienced and Tait often struggles in pass blocking. Chicago struggled mightily moving the ball in 2007, even with Hester often giving the team tremendous field position.

The Bears might have miscalculated their need to upgrade the offensive line in the offseason and the injury to Williams was a tough setback. Will not addressing the o-line more this offseason come back to haunt the Bears in ’08?

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