Bears expect offensive line to fall into place
The 2005 Bears, with a fourth-round rookie at quarterback, were dead last in the NFL in passing. But they weren’t dead.
Thanks to a dominant offensive line, Thomas Jones ran for more yards than any Bear except Walter Payton, and Chicago (11-5) won the NFC North.
Those blockers didn’t draw nearly as much attention as they did last year, when Chicago fell to 30th in the NFL in rushing and 32nd in yards per carry (3.1, its worst average in 37 years).
“Linemen never get noticed until something is wrong,” backup center Josh Beekman said.
The line is again carrying a low profile at a Bears training camp high-lighted by Devin Hester’s contract issues, the Rex Grossman-Kyle Orton quarterback duel and rookie running back Matt Forte. But offensive coordinator Ron Turner says the entire offense rests on the running game, which in turn rests more on the blockers than the new running back.
“If we’re running the ball well, which I think we will with a good offensive line, then we can do a lot more to give our guys a chance,” Turner said.
No. 1 draft pick Chris Williams is Chicago’s biggest reason for hope of an improved line. But Williams hurt his back and missed more than a week of practice. Six-time Pro Bowl center Olin Kreutz (Achilles tendon) also missed the first week. John St. Clair, projected to be the starting left guard, has been practicing at tackle. Chicago’s line had only two of its five starters in their correct spots for the majority of training camp so far.
“Guys have been in the system for awhile, so it shouldn’t be a problem,” St. Clair said.
Coaches are equally unconcerned.
“You always want the guys to be working together,” offensive line coach Harry Hiestand said. “Fortunately, this is July and we play in September.”
The Bears must replace former starters Fred Miller and Ruben Brown. Fortunately, they added Williams, their first offensive linemen drafted higher than the fourth round in six years. Also, St. Clair and fellow left-guard candidate Terrence Metcalf have started in the past.
“One of them will step up in that role and give us the type of play that we need,” head coach Lovie Smith said.
If so, and if Williams lives up to his status as a No. 1 pick, Chicago’s line could improve drastically.
But there are still a lot of unknowns and ifs.
“It takes a long time to evaluate on O line,” Kreutz said.
The Bears don’t have a long time. They open against the Colts. The clock is already ticking on Chicago’s line.
“Every year you have a chip on your shoulder,” Kreutz said. “Obviously, it’s a little bigger when you lose and struggle like we did last year.”
“We have to get better,” right guard Roberto Garza said. “We know last year was not good enough. We just have to get the job done. That’s all it comes down to. We have to get out there and move people around and create holes for our running backs to hit.”
That’s easier said than done, but Chicago’s line dominated when the Bears won back-to-back NFC North titles in 2005-06. They say they can do it again.
“Everything,” St. Clair said, “will fall into place. The guys who are here are more than capable.”
Matt Trowbridge can be reached at (815) 987-1383 or email@example.com.