Based on your questions, concern about the Chicago Bears' offensive-line situation doesn’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon.
Given the uncertainty at left guard, and questions about how the line will protect in Mike Martz’s pass-heavy scheme in live action, my guess is we’ll be dissecting Chicago’s offensive line all the way up to the Sept. 12 opener against the Detroit Lions.
We address the Bears offensive line, in addition to a variety of subjects in today’s mailbag:
Q: The offensive line seemed to improve a lot the last two games of the season. I would say that's because they swung Chris Williams out to the other side, and also flipped Frank Omiyale. Don't you think if they keep the same setup on the line, they'll be much improved from last year? I can see Jay Cutler really doing damage if they keep the same line. True? -- Joseph, Fort Wayne, Ind.
A: The Bears allowed two sacks in each of the last two games of the season, after surrendering 11 in the previous four. So, you’re correct, Joseph. The Bears definitely improved -- nearly by an entire sack per game over the last two outings.
Now, to answer your other two questions: I’d say there are just too many variables to consider for an honest assessment to be made. Obviously, Mike Martz’s scheme is the No. 1 factor. Historically, Martz’s offenses have given up an abundance of sacks.
So I’m skeptical about Chicago’s sack totals somehow magically dipping this season because of the club moving Williams and Omiyale. There also are questions concerning all three of the interior spots. Center Olin Kreutz is returning from surgery. And let’s be honest here: right guard Roberto Garza didn’t produce last season at the level he probably expected to. Although the Bears most recently gave the bulk of practice repetitions at left guard to Johan Asiata, nothing appears to be set in stone at that position.
Cutler will do “damage” regardless of the situation up front, in my opinion. Cutler’s ability combined with Martz’s scheme virtually ensures that. Now if the offensive line improves enough to get the running game popping with Matt Forte and Chester Taylor, the entire unit will be downright dangerous. Run-blocking schemes are one of the specialties of offensive line coach Mike Tice (he was instrumental in the success of Jacksonville’s running game with Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor). So you can count on the offensive line being an improved unit in that department.
Q: If key players such as Brian Urlacher, Pisa Tinoisamoa, Chris Harris, etc. stay healthy this year, I think -- even if the offense is clicking -- the defense will be the strength of the team. However, do you think Zack Bowman can take on any of the No. 1 receivers in the NFC North? I feel the best way for him to practice that is to cover Devin Aromashodu in training camp. -- Alex, Charleston, S.C.
A:Bowman should be able to hold his own for the most part. But let’s keep in perspective the task he’s facing in trying to cover Detroit’s Calvin Johnson, Green Bay’s Greg Jennings and Minnesota’s Sidney Rice. At 6 foot 1, Bowman matches up well with Jennings (5-11) in terms of size. But several cornerbacks around the league have told me Jennings is one of the toughest receivers to cover because of his athleticism. A Pro Bowl selection last season, Rice is three inches taller than Bowman, while Johnson has a four-inch height advantage over the Bears corner. To me, the key to Bowman taking away those top receivers lies in a combination of play-calling and good safety play over the top. The Bears need to generate pressure with the front four, and not become reliant on the blitz, which would leave Bowman in one-on-one coverage.
Bowman, for the most part, shut down Chicago’s receivers during practice sessions this offseason. But he won’t be able to do that consistently against the NFC North’s top receivers (most corners couldn’t do it). The Bears know that, too. That’s why they’re looking for better play at safety. Bowman can only be as good as his safety help over the top allows him to be.
Q: San Diego Chargers receiver Vincent Jackson might be on the move and the Seahawks Seattle might be players in trying to acquire him. If he is on the market, should the Bears go after him? What would be the price to acquire him? -- Josh, Chicago
A: The latest reports coming out of San Diego indicate the Chargers aren’t interested in trading Jackson, a restricted free agent, who has produced two consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons while leading the league in average yards per catch during that same span. Jackson apparently wants a long-term deal, and plans to stage an extended holdout until after Week 10 of the season (he’d need to play six games to earn an accrued season, and become an unrestricted free agent if a new collective bargaining agreement can be reached).
Based on Jackson’s production, it’s believed he’s seeking a contract similar in value to the top-five receivers’ salaries. Given all the spending the Bears did in the offseason, that’s a price way higher than the club would be willing to pay. And after the Brandon Marshall trade to Miami from Denver, it’s likely the Bears would have to give up at least two second-round picks in a trade to acquire Jackson (that’s what the Dolphins gave up for Marshall). Bears general manager Jerry Angelo has said multiple times this offseason that the club is ducking out of the business of giving up high draft picks to acquire talent.
Q: Do you think the Bears have done enough to address the issue on the offensive line, or is it a belief of the coaching staff that it was a scheme issue? -- John, Iraq
A:Good question, John. I think it was a combination which, in my opinion, is why the Bears kept the same personnel and just moved around the pieces, while bringing in a new offensive line coach in Mike Tice, who has a reputation for putting together solid O-lines. I like the team moving Frank Omiyale out to tackle because in Martz’s scheme, the Bears will need two athletic players on the outside. The interior three are the most concerning spots, to me. But Tice’s philosophies, which focus on attacking and moving forward and eliminating drop steps, should allow whoever lines up in those spots to utilize their athleticism to the fullest.
Q: Is there any talk of signing any veteran receivers or a good backup quarterback this year? -- Tom, Roanoke, Va.
A: There was some talk about both. But it appears that the Bears don’t plan on making any moves at either of those positions. Martz and coach Lovie Smith indicated the club would be interested in adding a veteran backup quarterback who is familiar with the new offensive system, but the Bears weren’t able to consummate a move. The Bears contacted Trent Green, who had worked with Martz in St. Louis, last month about the possibility of coming out of retirement to join the club. Green declined. Former Rams quarterback Marc Bulger, who also worked with Martz, signed last week with the Ravens. So there went two options. Apparently, the club is content to go into training camp with Caleb Hanie as the backup, according to my colleague Jeff Dickerson.
As for the receiver situation, the Bears contacted veteran Mike Furrey (who had worked with Martz in Detroit) earlier in the offseason. But Furrey recently signed with the Washington Redskins. Martz expressed confidence in the group’s young receivers at the beginning of the offseason, and it’s obvious the coach’s comfort level has grown. I don’t anticipate the Bears making a move at either position prior to training camp.