Following the 2008 season, many people felt that the Bears offensive line was looking somewhat stable going into the offseason. Then, without much warning, right tackle Jon Tait decided to retire leaving a gaping hole at the right tackle position. The Bears also needed to get John St. Clair signed due to his versatility and starting experience. That didn’t happen.
What did happen was that the Bears signed veteran Kevin Shaffer to compete at the right tackle spot and quite possibly take over there. A few weeks later, they signed former St. Louis Rams All-Pro offensive tackle Orlando Pace. Things looked like they were really shaping up for the Bears on the O-line.
The following is a look at each player at the offensive tackle and center position that the Bears will carry into training camp this July. There is a quick look back at where they left off in 2008, how their offseason has gone so far, and how they look going into training camp this July.
If the Jay Cutler trade was Chicago’s biggest offseason acquisition, then the signing of Orlando Pace was their second biggest. Even if Kyle Orton had remained a part of the team, he would have still needed someone to protect his blind side, and with Chris Williams untested, it would have still been beneficial to bring him in.
In 2008, Pace was injured often but is coming into this season fully healthy and ready to go for probably two more seasons. His experience and ability will be vital in helping Chicago’s offense move the ball and if he stays healthy, he should help the Bears' offense excel.
Williams, last year’s first-round pick comes back to fight for the starting job at right tackle now thanks to the acquisition of Pace. In training camp last year, it was discovered that Williams had a herniated disc in his back that would require surgery, so he missed half the season and didn’t see much time the remainder of it.
Williams will battle with new free-agent acquisition Kevin Shaffer for the starting right tackle spot, and if he can hold up (with his health), he will probably win and remain a fixture at that position for several years to come.
Before the acquisition of Pace, it was thought that Shaffer would be able to compete for and win the starting right tackle job. Now that the Bears have Pace, Williams was moved over to the right tackle position and now Shaffer must battle with Williams for the starting right tackle spot.
Who has the edge? While Shaffer might have more experience playing the position than Williams does, Williams has better intangibles and is more athletic than Shaffer. Look for Williams to win that battle and for Shaffer to end up as the backup at the right and left tackle position.
Balogh has been with the Bears for one season now, mainly as a reserve player. He will most likely make the team as a backup due to the Bears' lack of talent at the position. Balogh is a solid backup, but he doesn't have the ability to be a consistent starting tackle. He may come into a game in a pinch, but he will probably ride the pine in 2009.
The Final Outlook
As can be seen, there is a serious lack of depth at the offensive tackle position for the Bears. While newly acquired Frank Omiyale is listed as a tackle, he is gunning for a starting role as a guard (going against Josh Beekman), but he could step in at the tackle position if needed. With the age of Pace, it’s going to be vital that the Bears get some depth at the position in next year’s draft or get someone through free agency.
It is possible that Chicago could get some help with the position before the season starts by picking up some players who are cut by other teams. One injury may cause problems on this unit due to its lack of depth, but if the starters remain healthy, it could be a good year for this offensive line.
The Bears list just two people at the center position, Olin Kruetz and Josh Beekman. Beekman also plays guard and will be covered in our next segment. Here are some news and notes on Kruetz.
The Bears longtime center showed his age last season and missed the Pro Bowl. While this is not necessarily an indication that he is in decline, his play has suffered a little the last two seasons. So, the Bears may start thinking about replacing him soon. He still has it in him, however, and he is still a leader on offense, tough, and always ready to play. He won’t have any problems making the roster, but his time with the Bears may soon be coming to an end.