More shuffling on the Bears' offensive line
DANA POINT, Calif. -- When I asked Lovie Smith on Wednesday how many new starters he expected on his offensive line this season, he paused and said: "For sure, we'll have two."
|Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images|
|Former Browns tackle Kevin Shaffer will replace John St. Clair, who signed with Cleveland earlier this month.|
Now I know what the pause meant. (And it wasn't to give him extra time to decide between a smorgasbord of fruit on his breakfast plate.) The addition of free agent lineman Kevin Shaffer, whose three-year contract was announced a few hours after the conclusion of the NFL owners' meeting, means the Bears are likely to have three new starters when training camp opens this summer.
Shaffer had been Cleveland's right tackle for most of the past two seasons, and ESPN's John Clayton reports he will receive $2.75 million in 2009 and up to $8 million over three years. Those numbers suggest he will get every opportunity to win the Bears' right tackle job, allowing fellow newcomer Frank Omiyale to settle in as the left guard.
The ascension of second-year left tackle Chris Williams gives the Bears 60 percent turnover along the offensive line for 2009. In this likely scenario, the only returning starters will be center Olin Kreutz and right guard Roberto Garza.
If Shaffer doesn't measure up, he would likely serve as a swing tackle with Omiyale starting on the right side and Josh Beekman at left guard. It's also possible, but unlikely, the Bears could draft an immediate starter at right tackle.
Shaffer was signed in 2006 to be Cleveland's starting left tackle. That experiment failed and after Joe Thomas was drafted Shaffer moved to the right side, which clearly fits him much better. Shaffer is very strong and has the size and skill set needed to best play on the right side. On the left side, his athletic ability was exposed, but he has performed admirably on the right side because he doesn't have to consistently face elite speed-rushers. He isn't very nimble or fluid, but does work hard. His pad level is a problem and he lacks the ability to consistently play the game low. He is a powerful man and pushes defensive linemen backwards as a power blocker. He is a thumper who plays to the whistle and is bright enough to get the most out of his physical abilities.