Thursday, June 26, 2014
Pre-camp check: Centers and guards
By Michael C. Wright
Overview: Keeping the interior of the pocket clean allows the quarterback to step up and follow through on throws, and in 2013 the trio of starters Roberto Garza, Kyle Long and Matt Slauson certainly allowed the Chicago Bears' signal callers to do that with relative ease.
"We want the protection system to start from the inside out," offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said.
It's probably safe to say the interior of Chicago's offensive line is its strength, and should only improve with the team bringing back all the starters while ramping up the competition at some of the backup spots.
"It's exciting," Slauson said. "This is the first time in my career where all five guys have stayed the same. Hopefully we can build off all the progress we made last year."
Battle to watch: This isn't expected to materialize into a full-blown battle, but surely all eyes will be on the play of Garza and Brian De La Puente at the center position. Garza has started every game the last three seasons at center, and in 2013 put together arguably his best campaign since taking over for Olin Kreutz at the position. Although Garza hasn't shown any signs of a drop off, his age (35), and the fact the Bears brought on De La Puente -- who also has familiarity with Kromer -- as the potential heir apparent at the position will lead to speculation the team might be looking to replace the team captain. The potential speculation should lead to intense competition at training camp between Garza and De La Puente, who has also spent time during the offseason at guard. Garza's spot likely isn't in jeopardy, and the truth is some of the battles for the backup roles might wind up being more compelling.
Dark horse: The Bears put together such strong depth at the interior positions there probably won't be a dark horse to make the team at center or guard, and certainly no player on the roster will push either Slauson or Long for their starting jobs.
Who makes the cut: The Bears entered the 2013 regular-season finale with 10 total offensive linemen on the active roster and six of those players including Taylor Boggs, Eben Britton, James Brown, Garza, Long and Slauson can play interior positions. Well, every one of those players is back for 2014, in addition to De La Puente. De La Puente will make the team, which means one of the other players won't make the cut. There's a good chance that player winds up being Brown.