PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The Chicago Bears made the NFC North's biggest offseason move by acquiring receiver Brandon Marshall. They filled two disruptive holes in their depth by signing quarterback Jason Campbell and running back Michael Bush, and they even paid a $1.5 million signing bonus to Eric Weems to serve as a secondary kick returner.
If there is one gap in their performance, however, it's the apparent decision to stand pat at offensive line. We all know about the Bears' pass protection issues in recent years, but as Rivers McCown points out in this EPSN Insider piece, they didn't grade out well in run-blocking, either. According to McCown, the Bears had the third-highest percentage of runs stuffed at the line scrimmage last season and ranked No. 20 overall in converting short-yardage runs.
So it was more than fair to question Bears coach Lovie Smith about his plans for the offensive line, especially left tackle J'Marcus Webb, in 2012. Smith noted that 2011 first-round pick Gabe Carimi will return, probably at right tackle, and 2008 first-round pick Chris Williams is likely to be his left guard again.
It's always possible that the Bears could draft an offensive lineman or two next month, but Smith suggested the Bears have addressed their blocking schemes more than they have their personnel.
Asked why the Bears didn't sign a veteran lineman, Smith said: "That would be saying we don't feel comfortable with [our current players], and that's not the case."
Smith said he feels "comfortable" with Webb at left tackle but didn't rule out the possibility that Carimi could eventually play there. Webb absorbed 15 accepted penalties in 2011, the third-highest total for any player in the NFL, and our friends at Pro Football Focus attributed 12 sacks to him -- the second-highest total among NFL tackles.
"You can look at the situations sometimes dictating that," Smith said. "Every tackle in the league can look bad at times. There are some things you have to do to help him out a little bit more at times, which we plan to do. You can make a case and throw out stats on what he did, but I think it's hard for all tackles in the league to block Julius Peppers from time to time.
"We feel like we have a good plan at the left tackle. … We have all of our options open right now, but if we end up playing J'Marcus Webb at left tackle next year, we'll be comfortable with that."
Smith, of course, is referring to an important shift the Bears are working on as they transition from Mike Martz's offense to the one run by new offensive coordinator Mike Tice. If all goes as planned, Tice will provide Bears linemen with better numbers and more chances for double-teams while limiting the one-on-one opportunities defenders get.
You never like to hear a team making plans to protect its left tackle, let alone any offensive lineman. But as we've discussed many times, there are only a handful of left tackles in the NFL who can account for their assignments without regular help. Unless something dramatic happens in the draft, that's what the Bears appear headed for. Giving Webb and his teammates more help will have to do, at least for now.