Bears’ unheralded line surpasses all expectations

Matt Trowbridge

Chicago’s offensive line, a supposedly ragtag bunch, has quietly become the bedrock of the Bears’ best offense in nine seasons.

“Besides quarterback, they received the most criticism of any position on the offense,” tight end Desmond Clark said. “But the guys on the offensive line have a whole lot of pride. They are not going to sit and let you talk bad about them and not do something about it.

“When pride kicks in, you’ve got to step up. No one likes having their manhood questioned. That’s how they looked at it. They stepped up and started making plays and showing everybody how good they are.”

A year after Chicago finished dead last in the NFL with its lowest rushing average in 37 years (3.1 yards per carry), the Bears carry their highest offensive ranking since 1999 at 14th with an average of 335.6 yards. The Bears (4-3) still struggle to run at times (averaging 3.6 yards), but the line ranks a solid 16th in sacks allowed, helping quarterback Kyle Orton have a breakout season.

And they are doing it without No. 1 draft pick Chris Williams, their one offseason line addition.

“They are doing a great job,” said Orton, whose 1,669 yards put him on pace for only the Bears’ fifth 3,000-yard passing season in 45 years. “Everybody thought Chris would step right in coming out of the draft, but we’ve really had guys step up and play well. They are doing a great job pass-protection-wise.”

Center Olin Kreutz, right guard Roberto Garza and right tackle John Tait have been their dependable veteran selves. The big surprises have been left tackle John St. Clair and left guard Josh Beekman.

St. Clair is a nine-year veteran who had started only nine games the previous three years. And he was supposed to be a guard before Williams hurt his back.

Beekman started training camp as a third-stringer and then moved to backup center before becoming a starting guard by injury default.

St. Clair and Beekman were supposed to be overmatched on the left side. They haven’t been. The entire line has looked solid, especially pass blocking, week after week.

“We tried not to listen to what everybody had to say and focus on ourselves,” St. Clair said. “That’s what we did in training camp when we were getting all the scrutiny.

“We believe in each other. We’re a bunch of humble guys who just want to work hard and win. That’s what’s carried us this far.”

That attitude makes them better as a group than they could ever be individually.

“We’re just playing as a unit,” St. Clair said. “All the guys are playing together, knowing where all the guys are supposed to be, knowing where the back is supposed to be, knowing where the quarterback drop is.

“It’s a collective unit. It’s not one particular guy. Everyone is on the same page. We work together.”

The linemen are proud, but not quite satisfied. They want to run better.

“If we can’t run the ball, at least we pass it well and are putting up big points,” St. Clair said. “That’s the key.”

Yes it is. The Bears are tied for second in the NFL in scoring at 28.0 points a game. No one expected that from a team with six new starters on offense, including Orton, who had spent most of the previous two years as the third-string quarterback. But the line has let Orton and the offense shine.

“The offensive line has done great,” said rookie running back Matt Forte, who has run for 515 yards. “They are playing ball like they are supposed to: Protect the quarterback and open up running lanes. That’s their job, and they have been doing it.”

Matt Trowbridge can be reached at 815-987-1383 or