Bears notebook: Offensive line even more unsettled after St. Clair picks Browns

Staff reports

The Bears’ unsettled offensive line became even more unsettled Tuesday when John St. Clair signed with the Cleveland Browns.

St. Clair, a nine-year veteran, started all 16 games at left tackle for the Bears last year. The Bears had hoped to move him to right tackle in 2009 to replace the retired John Tait.

“We’re going with the guys we have right now,” coach Lovie Smith said Tuesday after the Bears opened their three-day mini-camp at Halas Hall. “We have some options.”

That includes the draft.

“We like the group of offensive linemen we have now, but adding another guy would just make us stronger,” Smith said.

St. Clair’s departure means 12-year veteran center Olin Kreutz and nine-year veteran guard Roberto Garza are the only linemen who have started more than one year for the Bears. Left guard Josh Beekman was a first-year starter last year, after beginning training camp third on the depth chart. Left tackle Chris Williams, Chicago’s No. 1 draft pick in 2008, missed virtually all of his rookie season with a back injury.

Cody Balogh, a second-year undrafted free agent out of Montana, practiced with the first string at right tackle Tuesday. Newly signed free agent Frank Omiyale, who has one career start in five seasons, spent his first day as a Bear as a second-team guard.

Mini-camp sights

A few of the plays that stood out in 7-on-7 passing drills Tuesday were second-year safety Craig Steltz’s fingertip interception of Kyle Orton, a standout catch by backup receiver Brandon Rideau and a big-hit by newly signed safety Josh Bullocks that broke up a pass and laid out second-year receiver Earl Bennett.

Lovie Smith blamed Orton’s interception on a stiff wind.

“The one bad thing about today is the weather,” Smith said, “but we have to practice on days like this. Kyle threw the ball very well out there in that weather. That wind is something else.”

Hands-on head coach

Smith said in December that he would take over play-calling on defense and be even more involved on the defensive side than in the past. His added duties Tuesday started with overseeing the nickel backs.

“This time of year, it’s a fundamental camp,” Smith said. “It is with all the coaches. I like for all of them to have positions. They are letting me coach the nickel position a little bit, so I’m excited about that.”

Last year, Smith gave private nickel instruction to safety Danieal Manning.

No change for Forte

A year ago, Matt Forte was a rookie. Now, he’s the Bears’ all-time leader in single-season receptions by a running back (63) and the NFL’s seventh-leading rusher (1,238 yards) in 2008.

Forte said he feels no different now than he did at his first mini-camp practice as a rookie.

“When I was a rookie, everyone asked, ‘Do you feel like a rookie?’ I don’t know how a rookie is supposed to feel,” Forte said. “I just come out here and play football.”

Rockford Register Star assistant sports editor Matt Trowbridge can be reached at: 815-987-1383 or mtrowbridge@rrstar.com