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Wednesday, August 17, 2011
Mike Martz wants more from O-line

By Jeff Dickerson and Michael C. Wright
ESPNChicago.com

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Chicago Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz expects "remarkable" improvement from the offensive line in the next two to three weeks, starting with Monday night's matchup against the New York Giants.

After surrendering 56 regular season sacks in 2010, the Bears offensive line finds itself once again under heavy scrutiny after the unit allowed nine sacks against the Buffalo Bills in the preseason opener. While Martz acknowledged that overall offensive line play needs to improve, he felt it was unfair to blame the group for all the breakdowns in pass protection.

"The nine sacks, three of them belong to the offensive line," Martz said on Wednesday. "There were some other pressures in there too, but the rest of them (sacks) were other things involved in the offense. Remember now, of the five positions, four of them are in different (or new) positions. We didn't have the time in the offseason to get these guys grounded in it, and go through all the work and all that kind of stuff you do. The running game is going to be further along than the protections.

"I would expect remarkable improvement over the next few weeks with that group. I'm sure that will happen."

Bears coach Lovie Smith made a similar statement after Tuesday night's workout, saying he "expected" the unit to show major improvement against the Giants.

A solid performance by the offensive line in New York would certainly boost the team's confidence, considering the Giants sacked Jay Cutler nine times in the first half during a Week 4 meeting last year in the New Meadowlands Stadium. The punishment became so brutal that Cutler -- who at one point appeared to be held upright on the sidelines by backup Caleb Hanie -- left the game with a concussion, which forced him to miss the next week's game at Carolina.

Martz believes the Giants defensive line, in particular, will be a good test for Chicago's front five, especially second-year left tackle J'Marcus Webb. The former seventh-round draft choice out of West Texas A&M struggled in his preseason debut and appeared to lose a pair of individual matchups against Bills linebacker Shawne Merriman.

"This is good for him," Martz said. "There is a reason why he is on the left side. If you are going to play on the left side, then you are going to play against the best in the league. He needs to adapt to that and understand that. It's different than being on the right side. It's an adjustment for him as a young player to realize you're going to see the best there is (on the left side)."

Webb, who started 12 games last year at right tackle, is considered a key piece to the overall offensive line puzzle. If the second-year lineman makes a successful transition to the left side, the unit figures to be in decent shape. But if Webb continues to struggle in preseason games, the Bears would find themselves in a tough spot. Bears offensive line coach Mike Tice has repeatedly stated he wants to leave rookie Gabe Carimi at right tackle, leaving veteran Frank Omiyale as one of the few options currently on the roster if Webb falters.

"Frank played all last year at left tackle, so we feel good about that," Martz said. "J'Marcus('s) practice has been very good. He didn't play as well as he practiced which is disappointing, but he's not the Lone Ranger there either. In two or three weeks I think we'll have a much better feel for where we are. It's hard to draw any conclusions about anything right now you know. But I think in two weeks we'll have a pretty good idea."

As it stands right now, left guard Chris Williams and Carimi are the team's best pass protectors, according to sources close to the team. Right guard Lance Louis, center Roberto Garza, and Webb experienced the most pronounced struggles against the Bills, but the coaching staff is giving Garza somewhat of a pass for Saturday's performance because he's an experienced veteran who is also dealing with undisclosed personal issues.

The team plans to give the offensive line one more opportunity -- Monday's matchup against the Giants -- to show improvement and cohesion before it considers making changes. The team has already taken a few looks at new addition Chris Spencer at right guard. But the plan is to keep him at center. If Louis continues to struggle, the staff will likely consider moving Garza over to guard and inserting Spencer at center.

The problem is that despite Spencer starting 70 career contests, the team doesn't know his game well enough to trust him in such an integral role. In addition, the center doesn't know the team's system well enough just yet to make a meaningful contribution. According to sources, the club also wants to work out some of the kinks in Spencer's game, such as his tendency to hang onto defenders.

So if the team actually decides to make changes along the offensive line, expect to see the new group for an extended period in the third preseason game at Tennessee.

Besides throwing support behind the offensive line, Martz declared Hanie the unquestioned No. 2 quarterback on the roster. Rookie fifth-round pick Nate Enderle handled all the second-team reps during Monday's practice, which left observers wondering if another change to the quarterback depth chart was imminent.

The offensive coordinator explained the decision to shake up the practice reps.

"It was a combination of two things," Martz said. "He (Hanie) struggled on Saturday (against Buffalo) and whenever a quarterback does that you try to give him a day to sit back and kind of regroup a little bit. Most quarterbacks go through this. I've been through this a number of times. He didn't have a real good outing, but he's fine. He'll recover and he'll do fine. The other part of that is Nate did a really good job in the game. We want to know a little more about Nate. So each week he'll get one day with the second team. Of course, Caleb will get a few snaps with the No. 1's. Nothing has changed. We're just like we were before."

Martz told reporters there is zero chance Enderle will open the regular season No. 2 on the depth chart.

"No. Not unless Caleb's arm falls off or something," Martz said.

Jeff Dickerson and Michael C. Wright cover the Bears for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000.