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In improving O-line, Bears need inside help

4/19/2011

On Monday, I passed along Matt Williamson's assessment of the Chicago Bears' offensive line. In case you missed it, he ranked it last in the NFC North and, if you have an Insider subscription, executed a position-by-position takedown of their 2010 starters.

The analysis was harsher than we have seen elsewhere, but the bottom line remains inescapable: The Bears have more work to do along the offensive line this offseason than any other position. Among other concerns, the Bears don't have a single player they could use as an anchor and build the rest of their 2011 line around.

As a result, the Bears have left all five positions in play as the draft approaches. In reality, however, what's the Bears' best-case scenario next week? Choosing at No. 29, is it reasonable to think they can draft more than one immediate starter -- if that? Then, on the free agent market, how many additional starters could they reasonably pick up? Again, counting on more than one seems very optimistic.

So in the end, the Bears seem likely to fill at least 60 percent of their 2011 line with incumbents. At the NFL owners meeting last month, I asked coach Lovie Smith what his ideal lineup would be. He laughed and asked if I wanted position-by-position specifics.

"Sure," I said.

Here's the best Smith could provide: "Of course we have things in mind. We do have a picture of what it would look like. But so much goes into play with that. We have a lot of players that have played a lot of different positions. Chris Williams has been all over the O-line. J'Marcus [Webb] has a little flexibility in whether he can play left or right tackle. Frank Omiyale the same thing. Roberto Garza ... they've all played across.

"We just have to see what the total group looks like first. That's an area we've said that we'd like to improve, but we're going to say that about most of our team. But I think it's safe to say that's an area where we'd really like to improve."

Smith said that Webb could play at left tackle "if need be" and said "one of our offseason projects" is to find a permanent position for Williams.

Fixing the Bears' offensive line will be a two-part process. They'll need to bring in better players, but more important, they'll also have to coax improved play from a group that our resident scout sees little promise in.