Frank Omiyale is about the nicest guy in the Bears locker room, which may or may not be good for playing offensive tackle in the NFL.
The Bears are trying to find out everything they can about Omiyale, and what they've seen so far in this training camp has been a mixed bag at best.
During Tuesday's full-squad scrimmage, in oppressive heat and humidity, quarterback Jay Cutler moved to his right in the pocket and there was that man again. Julius Peppers had beaten Omiyale and stood right in front of Cutler, just waiting with his hands in the air, looking at him as if to say, "Hi, it's me again."
The play was blown dead as a sack because quarterbacks can't be hit in camp. Cutler then took quick aim and heaved the football as hard as he could, high and to the right.
The ball sailed over everything: Sports writers, cameramen, and fans. It slammed violently onto the roof of a shelter tent alongside the practice field.
"I don't know if we frustrated him because he's not really being hit," Peppers said. "He can't feel it yet.
"So I think it was more frustration..."
Then he paused to check himself.
"I don't know if it was frustrating for anybody. But not for him because he wasn't taking any punishment with it."
It has to be frustrating for Omiyale, if not Cutler. The thrown ball was the least of their worries.
After that "sack," coaches removed Omiyale and rookie seventh-round draft pick J'Marcus Webb took a first-team snap at right tackle.
Omiyale struggled as a left guard last year, but got moved this season to right tackle.
"I haven’t played the right side, but I'm just glad to be back at tackle. And I feel good about this year."
Omiyale hasn't played right tackle since his sophomore year of college. He was a left tackle with Carolina and Atlanta before coming to the Bears.
There is no shame in getting beat by Peppers, who lines up sometimes over the right tackle and sometimes over the left tackle. The Bears didn't pay him $91 million to produce six or seven sacks like Alex Brown and Adewale Ogunleye used to. The guy is a legit superstar, and displayed his athletic talents on Monday when he nearly ran down wide receiver Devin Hester from behind—25 yards downfield after a screen pass.
However, Omiyale's biggest problem has been something more fundamental. He's having trouble staying onsides.
In the first practice, Omiyale jumped the gun early for a false start. New line coach Mike Tice put him on the sidelines for one play. In another practice, he jumped early twice. He jumped once in another workout.
"It's the same guy," coach Lovie Smith said, when asked whether false starts concerned him. "We've got to get it corrected and go from there.
"I think every time you jump offsides you're a little overanxious to make a play. But you have to be disciplined in order to stay onsides. You can't lose a play before it starts. That won't be a problem (in the season)."
When Smith acknowledges one player making a mistake, it's noteworthy. He usually protects his flock from harm like a mother goose.
Peppers is enough to make anyone jumpy. But the Bears offensive line is going to face good pass rushers throughout the season, so they'll have to cope.
New line coach Mike Tice certainly knows how to judge talent at the position and thinks Omiyale fits the right tackle slot.
"I thought he was out of position for the most part at left guard.
"I felt he kind of had two seasons (in '09). He played early, sat a few games, and then played late. I thought the second part he played better and got better. In fact, I thought the whole line got better as the season went on. Early on, he was lost, so later in the season he was better.
"He's got great quickness and a long reach. He's got the ability to change direction and to close inside moves if he's out there on an island, which he might be in the offense that we're putting in. He could be out there on an island some at right tackle. So that's what he's got."
With more and more teams putting talented pass rushers at left end rather than on the traditional blind side for the quarterback, Omiyale is going to have to improve.
Tice will be looking for other options if he doesn't.
Tice mentioned something very interesting when asked about the line's performance as a group last year.
"I graded the whole season last year."
The end result was Kevin Shaffer getting the second-highest grade.
"Obviously, Kevin didn't play as many plays, but he did play multiple positions.
"I just think there are some things that over time he lets lapse technique-wise and I've pointed those out to him.
"He's going to work and has worked at least when I've had him diligently cleaning some of those things up."
Shaffer is Omiyale's backup—for now.
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