Mike Tice & Lovie Smith
The most surprising move of the Bears' offseason was their decision to not address the offensive line in free agency or the draft. Putting faith in the players on the roster could turn into a double-edged sword. They could come together and be more than adequate, or be the reason for the demise of what looks to be a promising season.
What can the team do? There is no question new coordinator and former offensive line coach Mike Tice has some tricks up his sleeve. He will have some complex answers to help the group protect its quarterback and open holes for the running backs. However, Tice is also focusing on the easy stuff. The low-hanging fruit that can be fixed fairly soon.
These are five easy fixes for the Bears' offensive line going into the 2012 season.
When Mike Martz was the offensive coordinator, it was no secret he liked seven-step drops from the quarterback in his system. The reason is because they allow the receivers to run long, complicated routes. However, those drop backs were getting Jay Cutler sacked at an alarming rate.
Even in the heyday of the greatest show on turf, Kurt Warner was sacked a lot. He was sacked 114 times in six seasons as a starter in St. Louis. Warner's offensive line back then was better than Cutler's. Cutler should never be in a scheme where he has to drop back that many times consistently.
New play-callers Mike Tice and Jeremy Bates should not and will not allow this to happen anymore. Expect to see Cutler in more situations where he will be dropping back anywhere from three to five times. Receivers will no longer run long, intricate routes but instead will focus on shorter receptions with better chances to run after the catch.
People may or may not know this, but Jay Cutler is surprisingly athletic and agile. He not only has the flexibility to roll out, but his skill and arm strength also allow him to excel while doing so.
During his tenure in Denver, the team's former head coach, Mike Shanahan, used Cutler's ability to roll out quite a bit. When he got to Chicago, that piece of the offense was seldom used by Mike Martz. With his former quarterback coach Jeremy Bates now back in the fold, look for more of what was done in Denver to come back.
One way to take pressure off a line that struggles in pass-protection is to allow the quarterback to make plays on the edge. Imagine Cutler being able to buy himself a couple more seconds by rolling away from the struggling left tackle position. Not only will it cut down on the sacks and hits, but it will also allow him to use those athletic skills to make big-time plays.
Chris Williams & Roberto Garza
It isn't rocket science. We are looking for the five easiest fixes for the offensive line. Probably the easiest is to stay out of 3rd-and-long.
When a team puts itself in a 3rd-and-long situation, the quarterback is forced to drop back farther and stay in the pocket longer to compensate for the time it takes his receivers to get open down the field. The Bears may now have the quarterback and receivers to pick up seven-plus yards on third downs, but they still don't have the line to help the players.
Smarter plays help keep teams out of 3rd-and-long situations. It is unrealistic to assume a team would never be in the situation, but it should be expected for this year's Bears team to cut down drastically on the long-down situations.
A more balanced offense and better playmakers are all ways to stay out of 3rd-and-long. The Bears have not only a new coordinator looking for balance, but also the players to execute.
Jay Cutler attempted over 30 passes in eight out his 10 games last season. While there are many quarterbacks in the league who drop back more than this on a consistent basis, none of them have a guy like J'Marcus Webb blocking for them.
The Matt Forte situation is still in flux, but let's assume he will be the starting running back in Week 1 this year. With Forte, new Bear Michael Bush and Kahlil Bell, the Bears can say without hesitation that they have one of the better running back cores in the league. Why not use them? Why not lean on them?
Jay Cutler should be the kind of quarterback who averages closer to 25 pass attempts a game. While dropping back a couple times less may not seem like much to the average person, it is huge to Cutler. It means less hits and less damage to his body.
Offensive linemen will always admit that they get into a groove during run-blocking. It allows them to push down hill and gain rhythm, especially early on in the game. When a running back breaks off large runs, the line gains more confidence and relishes the opportunity to fire off the block on the next play.
People may be excited about the additions to the aerial attack, but in order for this team and its offensive line to perform, the Bears will need to run the football.
Throw the draft pick statuses and salary amounts out the window. Find out early on who the top five guys are—no matter where they were drafted or how much they make—and let them roll together.
Chris Williams will be given a chance early to be the left tackle. It may be because he's good enough or because he was a first-round pick and the team needs to save face. Either way, Chicago should find out early if he can do it, and if he can't then the next man needs to step up.
It is imperative the Bears find their best five guys early in training camp so they can build chemistry together during the preseason. This will be a highly competitive division, and this Bears team cannot compete if they are shuffling around offensive linemen due to performance during the season.
Gabe Carimi is healthy and so is Chris Williams. Roberto Garza now has a year under his belt at the center position. Lance Louis and Chilo Rachal are primed to step into the guard spots. Right now on paper they look like the best five guys on the roster, but if this group does not work out the Bears need to find out early.