Tackle tandem pivotal

The Bears attempted last season to compete with one inexperienced offensive tackle, and the results were disastrous. This year they'll try it with two.

In 2002, the coach Dick Jauron and his offensive staff repeatedly voiced their confidence in OLT Bernard Robertson, a fifth-round draft choice in 2001, who didn't play a down that season but was deemed worthy of a starting spot at the most critical spot on the offensive line.

Robertson was benched after five games in favor of rookie Marc Colombo, who played fairly well until a dislocated left knee cap ended his season after five starts. Then, Mike Gandy, a third-round pick in 2001 who also didn't play a down as a rookie, was thrown in at left tackle. Although Gandy had never played left tackle at any level, he performed adequately.

This season, the plan is for Gandy to move to right tackle in place of 35-year-old James "Big Cat" Williams, who was cut after starting every game for the past eight years. Colombo will get the LT spot back, and he is expected to be fully recovered from last season's injury.

The inexperience and shuffling of bodies on the offensive line due to injuries last season contributed to a deplorable running game that ranked No. 32 in yards and No. 31 in average gain per play.

"When you don't have your five starters on the offensive line starting all the time, the running game is going to suffer because you're working with different people and you're not used to guys being in there," right guard Chris Villarrial said. "Of course, A-Train (Anthony Thomas) went down (Dec. 1) and you had a rookie (Adrian Peterson) come in, so it's going to suffer. Plus we played against eight-man fronts all year."

Colombo and Gandy have more experience that they did last season, but they're still not expected to be completely in sync with center Olin Kreutz and guards Villarrial and Rex Tucker, who is coming back from a serious dislocated left ankle and fractured fibula last Oct. 7.

The greatest help to the young linemen may be the new quarterback. Kordell Stewart has the speed, quickness and athleticism to outrun most of the line's miscues. The three interior linemen will be starting together for the third straight season.

"I think we'll be OK," Villarrial said I response to questions about the line's youthfulness at the tackles. "They're going to see a lot of heat out there, so we're going to have to be able to help them a lot. I think with Kordell coming, it's going to take a lot of pressure off them. Guys just can't keep flying up the field, because if you do and no one's staying true to him, he can take off and run on you.

"I think Kordell's going to help the tackles out a lot. Plus both of them played last year, so they know what it takes, and they're both working their butts off this year."

Hopefully, they can keep Stewart off of his rear end. The Bears allowed 44 sacks last season, compared to 17 in 2001.


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