Communication Up Front is a Problem

When the Chicago Bears offensive line got beat up by the Giants, that was mostly a physical problem. But when facing the Seahawks this past Sunday, a lack of communication led to mental mistakes.

Bears offensive line coach Mike Tice is dealing with a lot of issues here.

Four different O-line combinations have started for the Bears this year, and the current group includes a rookie at right tackle and a first-year player at right guard. Then there's the communication that every offensive line must have before it begins to jell, something the Bears are still working on.

In his 15 years of coaching, Tice has had a lot of experience working with offensive lines, even ones in the formative stage. This situation is a bit different.

"I haven't been in one where you're in such a fishbowl," Tice said. "I've been in one where no one gave a crap. I've been in one where no one really cared if your guys weren't playing good. But here you're in such a fishbowl, and I have to have patience."

Right tackle J'Marcus Webb has two NFL starts. Right guard Edwin Williams has four, but just two with the Bears. Six-year veteran left tackle Frank Omiyale had one NFL start at that position before this season, although he did start 12 games at left guard for the Bears last season. Chris Williams, who started at left guard last week, hadn't played there since his sophomore season at Vanderbilt, but he started 11 games at right tackle last year and five at left tackle, and the first two this season at left tackle before a hamstring injury sidelined him.

10-year veteran Roberto Garza provided some stability at left guard through the first five games, but he played the last three with torn cartilage that finally required arthroscopic surgery last week. So for now, the coaching staff has decided that youth will be served, and growing pains and mistakes are inevitable.

"If Ed has a bad play or J'Marcus has two bad plays in a series, I can't start yanking them," Tice said. "Because then, all of a sudden, where's that continuity? Now it's just hodge-podge, here we go, let's shuffle them in. We tried to settle in on a group, and then Chris got hurt, then Roberto sucked it up for three weeks with a meniscus torn right in half."

Communication is easy between players like center Olin Kreutz and Garza, who have played together since midway through the 2005 season. When it comes to adjusting for a blitz pickup, a lack of communication on the offensive line results in a roughed-up quarterback.

G Edwin Williams
Jonathan Daniel/Getty

"We had some young guys out there [last week] that didn't communicate," Tice said. "It changes calls. One guy sees it and doesn't pass it along, and it kind of hurts the mesh of things. The more they play together, the more they get confidence in what they're seeing and they believe what they see. They'll be able to blurt those things out and communicate."

According to Tice, young players like Williams and Webb are hesitant to call out information because they don't trust that what they think they're seeing is actually what's happening.

"They don't speak because they're not positive they know what they know or they think what they think," Tice said, laughing. "If they would just believe in themselves they'd be right nine out of 10 times."

Linemen that play together for years know instinctively what the other will do in most situations. Young linemen, especially young linemen who haven't played much, have to communicate constantly.

"Because myself and J'Marcus are young guys, we've got to communicate on each play. With a veteran offensive line, guys don't have to talk as much," Edwin Williams said. "But with us kind of jumping in there, we've got to talk a lot more and just tell everybody what we're doing on each play."

To help them recognize situations, Tice gives his younger players homework, having them watch film from the previous game and take notes to determine if they're seeing developments the same way the coach is and to identify what steps can be taken to fix problems.

"We knew when we went with the young guys that we were going to have some growing pains," Tice said. "We're very fortunate to be 4-2 as poorly as we've played up front at times. But then you also have to look at the tape and see the good things."

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