Commentary

Bears' blockers remain a concern

The Bears say their O-line is making strides, but are they big enough?

Updated: August 26, 2012, 7:25 PM ET
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- On a rainy Sunday, Chicago Bears offensive coordinator Mike Tice shed no light on the left tackle position, a battle, by the way, that has been too hyped during an otherwise monotonous preseason, at least according to the Bears' no-hype man, head coach Lovie Smith.

[+] EnlargeBears
Joe Camporeale/US PresswireThe Giants' vaunted defensive line didn't register a sack of Jay Cutler on Friday night.

"You know, a big emphasis has been placed on the position, left tackle, left tackle," Smith said after practice. "We have other things going on, too."

Of course, Lovie is right. But seeing as I have to go to Der Spiegel to see where Brian Urlacher and his knees are nowadays, the left tackle situation is what passes for news.

Although I respect Lovie's "What kind of question is that?" ethos to media relations, I think the universal story of mediocrity battling ineffectiveness, Chris Williams versus J'Marcus Webb in no particular order, should be dramatized in an upcoming "30 for 30" documentary: "The Making of Jay Cutler's Blind Side."

I kid, I kid. Webb and Williams performed pretty well in one aspect of line play in Friday night's 20-17 win over the Giants in New Jersey. No sacks for two straight games equals one happy Cutler.

"We were pleased with the progress we made in our protection," Tice said. "We definitely made a lot of strides since the last two times we were in New York. I think we've made a lot of strides in this preseason with our protection."

With the preseason finale Thursday night in Cleveland, Tice said the coaching staff will talk about the final decision on who starts in the next day or so, and added that practice will play a determining factor. Considering he's started all three preseason games, it would be highly surprising if Webb isn't the starter against Indianapolis in the season opener.

Asked what he thought about Friday, Williams was momentarily puzzled.

"Friday? What day was Friday?" Williams said. "Oh, the game was on Friday, you lose track of days."

I'll spare you the rest. He thought he played pretty well. Nothing special. Personally, I wouldn't be surprised if Williams starts at some point this season, and that's not a good thing. But we have to let that play out. For now, it looks like Webb's job to lose.

Aside from the expected cuts and wondering whether Cutler's seal of approval can guarantee Dane Sanzenbacher a spot on the roster, there wasn't much else going on at Halas Hall on a rare Sunday availability.

The biggest question swirling in my head during Smith's interview time was whether his autobiography will be titled "Without Getting Into Specifics: Stop Reading This Book."

Typically, for as much worrying we've done over the pass protection, it turns out the run-blocking is what needs work. There's a reason for that. The "step off the bus running" Bears haven't put much emphasis on the run game in the preseason, and it shows.

"I'm not really worried about it," Tice said. "We'll run the ball fine. We just have to pay more attention to it in our individual work. We focused so much on making sure we're able to protect our quarterbacks that we've taken some of the time we usually work on [running] in those individual periods and focused on protection stuff."

The running back position has been de-emphasized around the league, but Matt Forte and Michael Bush will have to be major parts of the offense for it to succeed, be it running up between the tackles or getting those long handoff passes. Obviously, the people who get paid to run the Bears know that better than I do. That's why I believe Tice isn't too worried about the run game. Still, it's not as though he's running the meanest offensive line in the league. It's going to be a long season if he has to rip his guys in the media to get them to play well.

Talent isn't the problem anymore for the team's skill positions, but you have to wonder whether consistency will be harped on.

As explosive as Cutler, Brandon Marshall & Co. can be, the Bears are still working out the kinks in the passing game. Watching Friday's game from home, I caught several instances of "Cutler face" after miscommunication with his receivers. With little pressure, Cutler went 9-for-21 for 96 yards, highlighted by a 21-yard touchdown pass to Marshall. He and his receivers made mistakes, though.

"You're in preseason; there should be some things that have to be cleaned up every week," Tice said of the passing game. "That's why you have preseason and you're trying to iron those things out. We're still a new offense, we're trying to establish our identity and filter through some of our 11 installations that we had and call out the things we're not really feeling and make sure feeling hone the things we like."

Right now, that's acceptable. But a lack of preparation time won't be seen as a legitimate excuse when the regular season starts. Because the Bears have placed so much emphasis on one position battle, any sluggishness in the other aspects of the offense will be magnified when the regular season begins.

As someone who gets paid to nitpick, I can't wait to see what goes wrong and what goes right. One thing I know: There are bound to be surprises along the way.

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.