Over the course of the next two weeks, I and my esteemed colleague and writer Joey will be taking turns analyzing the different positions on the Chicago Bears.
We will write about the offensive line, QB's, RB's, and WR's. On defense, which will come after the offense preview, we will look at the defensive line, linebackers, secondary, and finally the special teams.
In this article, which is the first in the eight-part series, I will be analyzing the Bears offensive line or lack thereof.
With the retirement of starting left tackle John Tait along with the loss of starting right tackle John St. Clair to the Cleveland Browns, all of the sudden, offensive line is the biggest area of concern for the Bears.
The Bears currently have three offensive tackles on the entire roster in Chris Williams, Frank Omiyale, and Cody Balogh. These three players have a combined one NFL start between them with Omiyale starting one game at left tackle for the Carolina Panthers last season.
At the guard position, the Bears return starters Josh Beekman and Roberto Garza. Beekman is entering his third season with Chicago and was a fourth-round draft pick in 2007.
Garza is entering his ninth season and has started for the Bears since 2005. Garza has been very dependable and has started the last 32 games in a row for Chicago.
The only player who has started more games on the offensive line is their centerpiece and center Olin Kreutz. He is in entering his 11th season and has been to six Pro Bowls, and he has started an amazing 86 consecutive games including 115 out of 116 games.
He is one of only nine Bears players in history ever to make six or more Pro Bowls. He also has the longest tenure with Chicago, having been on the team since he was drafted in 1998.
The Bears offensive line has allowed 99 sacks over the past three seasons, which ranks 13th in the NFL.
As it stands today, Chicago will return three starters on the line and have two new faces steeping in at the tackles. One of them will most definitely be last year's first-round pick Chris Williams, who missed most of last season due to back surgery.
Williams is a 6'6", 312-pound left tackle who attended Vanderbilt and was their first player in 23 years to be named first-team All-ACC. Durability was not a problem for him in college as he started 33 consecutive games and gave up only one sack his entire senior season.
Frank Omiyale was acquired by Chicago on Feb. 27 and signed to a four-year contract. He is a 6'4", 310-pound lineman entering his fifth season from Tennessee Tech. Omiyale is a versatile player who can play OG or OT and has been penciled in as the starter at RT with the failure of Chicago to resign former starter John St. Clair.
“We’re disappointed that John left,” added offensive coordinator Ron Turner. “He was a good football player and we were all looking forward to having him back. But we’ve just got to move forward and get guys settled into their positions.”
With the unexpected retirement of starting LT John Tait, it seemed a foregone conclusion that Chicago would not let St. Clair walk, but in the end, they decided not to match Cleveland's offer.
So, with the NFL draft coming up at the end of April, the Bears seem to be changing course with the No. 18 pick in the draft.
Many people, including myself, thought they would target a WR with their first pick, but now it looks like they are forced to take a tackle at No. 18.
Some of the top tackles who should be available at No. 18 are Eben Britton and William Beatty. Britton is a 6'6", 310-pound OT from Arizona. He decided to turn pro after his junior year and has the size, strength, and athleticism to succeed at either tackle position in the NFL.
Beatty is a 6'6", 291-pound OT from Connecticut who is equally adept at run blocking as well as pass blocking.
One other player who has dropped like the girl with herpes on prom night is OT Andre Smith. Once considered a possible No. 1 overall pick, Smith's draft projection has fallen into the teens due to a disappearance at the Combine and a subpar Pro Day.
Whether or not he falls all the way to No. 18 will be unclear until Draft Day.
Of these three players, I like Smith the best because Chicago is looking primarily for a RT. Smith has struggled with pass rushers, but he is a bulldozer in the running game.
At 6'5", 340 pounds, he has the talent to develop into a top-notch tackle in the NFL. Although he has a high "boom or bust" potential, at No. 18, he would be worth the gamble.
If Smith is gone, I think Britton would make the second-best choice. He plays with a nasty streak, and he is good at cutting off pass rushers.
Beatty is a little slow and tends to play with a lack of passion unlike Britton. In Chicago, we like to have our big men play aggressively, and Britton seems to fit the mold more than Beatty.
If the Bears decide to wait until the second round to address the offensive line, a couple of players who should be there at No. 49 are Duke Robinson and Phil Loadholt.
Both players are from Oklahoma, but of the two, I like Robinson better.
He is a 6'5", 329-pound OL who played OG in college but has the size and athletic ability to play RT in the NFL. He does struggle somewhat with speed rushers, but if he plays on the right side, he can avoid many of those encounters. He is a pancake machine who plays with a nasty demeanour and absolutely dominates as a run blocker.
Loadholt is a 6'8", 332-pound monster who teamed with Robinson to form one of the largest left sides in the history of NCAA football. He is a decent pass blocker, but like Robinson, he sometimes struggles with speed rushers. Loadholt might have more potential at tackle in the NFL but lacks the aggressive play of his teammate.
With the need for tackles, GM Jerry Angelo has stated that Chicago will be looking to add one or two veterans and to draft at least one tackle if not more in the draft.
The veteran free-agent additions will most likely come from players on other teams who will be released in the coming months.
There's not much left in free agency at this point and bringing in a big name such as Orlando Pace seems unlikely. Pace has strongly been considering retirement after being cut by the Rams and has been injury-plagued the last few seasons. He would be nothing more than an expensive Band-Aid at this point, and the Bears need to focus on the future not the past.
With rookie phenom RB Matt Forte entering his second season, Chicago needs to address the offensive line in order to keep the best offensive threat they have rolling into the future.
Up next in the off-season analysis, my partner Joey will be addressing the running backs on the Chicago Bears.