It's only preseason, but Bears' OL a concern
August, 10, 2012
By Michael C. Wright | ESPNChicago.com
Mike DiNovo/US PresswireThe Bears' new system was supposed to help the OL, but that wasn't on display Thursday.Daylight closed quickly for the backs and time to sit in the pocket waned for the quarterbacks, who were hit a combined six times Thursday night in the Chicago Bears' 31-3 preseason-opening loss to the Denver Broncos.
This couldn't be the new O-line friendly system the club raved about executing all offseason.
"Running game wise, offensively we weren't able to establish anything and the protection wasn't good," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "We're not ready for prime time yet, but we'll hit the practice field as soon as we can and start making the necessary improvement."
That's imperative with the regular-season opener against the Indianapolis Colts fast approaching and training camp practice time dwindling. The Bears travel back to Bourbonnais and hit the field on Saturday to try to correct the many mistakes made against the Broncos in preparation for their Aug. 18 contest against the Washington Redskins.
A quick look at just the first half of Thursday's game reveals quite a bit in terms of where the Bears stand on the offensive line. While it's important to note the Broncos finished the 2011 season tied 10th in sacks, led by Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil, it's also worth mentioning the team actually finished 20th in total defense and 22nd against the run, allowing an average of 126.3 yards per game.
So while protection issues against the Broncos could be expected, Chicago's inability to run the ball wasn't.
The Bears ran eight times in the first half for 11 yards, gaining just 41 yards total as the offensive line allowed three sacks. Chicago's vanilla approach and lack of an offensive game plan likely contributed to the club's ineffectiveness on offense. But the players wouldn't use that as an excuse for the unit's overall lack of production.
"The other team probably did the same thing," said right guard Lance Louis. "We still want to come out and whatever plays they call, we want to execute them."
Left guard Chris Spencer acknowledged that the lack of a game plan "definitely makes a difference," but added "we've still got to go out and execute what's called."
"We don't really game plan in the preseason, so we're really just doing the stuff we've been doing in training camp," Spencer said.
"Still we've got to do a better job of executing what's called anyway, regardless of what the game plan says."
It's likely that offensive coordinator Mike Tice feels the same way. But he wasn't available for comment after Thursday night's game.
Quarterback Jason Campbell, who was sacked once filling in for starter Jay Cutler, managed to complete 4 of 5 for 13 yards in three offensive series, but was under duress on some of his throws.
"We've been flip-flopping guys (on the offensive line) a little bit to try and find the group," Campbell said. "Those guys are working their butts off in practice trying to get better. It wasn't a showing we would like to come out and have. But we'll just continue to grow and continue to move forward."
On the positive side -- although it's still somewhat negative -- the Bears moved backward because of penalties on the offensive line just three times throughout the game. Officials flagged left tackle J'Marcus Webb and guards Edwin Williams and Louis once each for false start penalties.
Webb, who is battling Chris Williams for the starting job at left tackle, played well into the fourth quarter. Williams saw extensive action, too. Smith identified Webb and Williams as "some players we thought needed reps, we needed to see" in explaining why the club gave them extended playing time.
"I've got to get better with knowing situations, and getting better with the camaraderie of my fellow linemen," said Webb, who committed an NFL-high 15 penalties in 2011. "I think it was a time to get better. I'm a young player, and if the team needs me to stay in then I will."
Naturally, Game 1 of the preseason shouldn't bring about panic. But at the same time, the Bears failed to assuage their most pressing concern entering the 2012 season.
In former offensive coordinator Mike Martz's scheme, the Bears gave up 49 sacks (fifth-most in the NFL) in 2011. So the prevailing thought all offseason was that the offensive line would perform better in Tice's system, which emphasizes the running game and protecting the quarterback.
It hasn't just yet.
"As a line, we definitely want to see this tape, just look at it. Next game, everybody wants to make a big jump; come out and play great," Louis said. "We've got some things to work on, but we'll get better from here. We're going to be alright."