After falling under harsh criticism for entering and exiting their 2007 NFL campaign with what was perhaps the most stale offensive line in pro football, the Chicago Bears have truly reached a crossroad going into the offseason.
In a game won and lost in the trenches, the need to rebuild the front five of the offense cannot take a backseat on the road to Opening Day, 2009.
General Manager Jerry Angelo came under fire this past season for drafting Williams, with some degree of knowledge regarding the herniated disc that lead Vanderbilt rookie to miss nearly all of training camp and roughly half of the regular season after undergoing surgery
Certainly that is a topic that can be debated at length, but it does not change the fact that bolstering the offensive line has to start with Chris Williams. Williams was brought to Chicago to secure the left side of the pocket on passing downs and control the line of scrimmage on running downs, two basic tasks that were difficult to come by in 2007.
His success or failure over the next several years may very well decide where the Bears stand in their quest to return to the Super Bowl.
On the right side of the line, veteran John Tait will be entering the final year of his contract, and this is where the Bears really have a beneficial situation on their hands. Sure, the lower the draft pick, the less common it is to find a rookie tackle that can hold his own and start in the NFL right out of the gates.
But with Tait’s one remaining year and a lineman-heavy draft approaching, the Bears can explore the option of taking a tackle outside of first or possibly even second round, if they feel that he can develop into a starter after serving time as an understudy.
This scenario would provide the opportunity to draft for other needs early on without neglecting the offensive line, while at the same time allowing for a young tackle to mentor under a seasoned veteran.
This begs the question: With Williams inserted as the starting left tackle and right tackle position receiving an overhaul, what is to become of John St. Clair? With his contract about to expire, he may be able to find more playing time elsewhere, especially after holding his own this past season against vicious NFL defensive ends like Julius Peppers and Dwight Freeney.
However, the Bears have to factor in his versatility when they are faced with the possibly of offering him a new contract. St. Clair is a lineman who, in the past two years, has started at left tackle, right tackle, and left guard. And he knows the system. While he is certainly not a long-term solution, he may be a very good insurance policy to have around while the team transitions to a younger core group.
Six-time Pro Bowl center Olin Kreutz has been a model of durability over the past several seasons, but after missing one game in the past eight seasons and with his 32nd birthday approaching, one has to wonder how much longer that durability will last.
Kreutz has two years to go on his contract and perhaps will play out his career in Chicago. Though any future changes at center remain to be seen, left guard Josh Beekman took a lot of reps at center during 2008’s training camp, experience that may prove helpful in the years to come.
Despite finishing 9-7 and missing the playoffs for the second consecutive season, the Chicago Bears seem to have a better sense of what they do and do not have. They have versatility on their offensive line, but a lack of youth as well.
They have found a potential star in Matt Forte, and possible (questionable?) stability in Kyle Orton. And while many say a big-play receiver holds the key to the success of their offense, a top-flight offensive line is an absolutely essential ingredient to a powerhouse NFL offense.