The Bears’ O-line was a nightmare last season, but it did get better late in the year and there is reason for hope for an improved unit overall in 2010. But new offensive coordinator Mike Martz is known for putting a lot of stress on his big men.
New Bears offensive line coach Mike Tice should improve last year's weak unit.
Two moves that didn’t get enough publicity were the hiring of Mike Tice as the Bears’ offensive line coach and the signing of tight end Brandon Manumaleuna, who is as much offensive tackle as he is pass-catcher. Both of these acquisitions should help this weakness quite a bit.
The Bears found out at the end of last season that Chris Williams is better suited at left tackle rather than on the right side and that he was far better than Orlando Pace, who began the season protecting Jay Cutler's blind side. Williams could stand to get stronger and enhance his technique, but the latter will come with more playing time. Chicago has a lot riding on this former first-round selection, but he appears capable of holding down the left tackle spot for the foreseeable future. It also should be noted that Williams’ rookie season was of little value because of his back injury. So that has stunted his progress as well.
At center and right guard, Olin Kreutz and Roberto Garza have done exactly what Chicago hopes to get from Williams at left tackle. They have been fixtures year after year. Both might be declining, but they are gritty and tough. For yet another season, the Bears should be fine at center and right guard, but these are not young players and Kreutz is recovering from offseason surgery to remove bone spurs.
The other two spots make me worry. Josh Beekman is the early favorite for the left guard spot and he should be adequate, while Frank Omiyale should start at right tackle. Omiyale should be OK. But with the stress that Martz’s play calling puts on his offensive line and pass protection as a whole, having two potential weak spots out of five could result in a lot of quarterback hits and pressures.
If this starting five holds up, Kevin Shaffer would be the first lineman off the bench, but he has been a liability. In the end, right tackle is probably the only spot that he can hold his own at, but even there, he isn’t what you want from the position. Ideally, the sixth lineman would be more versatile and overall, the depth up front isn’t very strong at all.
In the end, I see Chicago as a dark horse contender this season. The offensive line could be a liability -- as it was in 2009 -- but there is also promise here for improvement. Keep an eye on the Bears this year.