Last week signaled a landmark in NFL history, as the current work stoppage reached its 100th day on Thursday. It is the longest lockout in league history and will last for at least another two weeks, if not longer.
We now sit at Day 105. The Bears currently have just 54 players under contract, so there will be a number of new faces in training camp. Acclimating the veterans, rookies, veteran free agents and undrafted free agents, in a severely shortened timeframe, will prove challenging for the coaching staff.
This is especially so for an offensive line that has largely underperformed the last few seasons. Bear Report look at how four months of inactivity could disrupt the progression of the team's trench players.
Former first-round pick Chris Williams started off 2010 as the starter on the left side. He injured his hamstring in the team's second game and missed the next three games. By the time he returned, Frank Omiyale had entrenched himself at the position. The team slid Williams inside to left guard, where he started the rest of the season.
Pro Football Focus (PFF) recently analyzed each snap by every NFL left tackle and graded them in a formula called Pass Block Efficiency. In 2010, Omiyale had the fourth-worst efficiency rating in the entire league. Obviously, he was a just a stopgap and not the solution.
T Gabe Carimi
Jerry Lai/US Presswire
The solution may have come with the selection of Gabe Carimi in the first round of this year's draft. Carimi played four years at left tackle for Wisconsin. With the lockout robbing him of valuable time with the coaches, it's likely the team will slot Carimi in on the left side from Day 1, thus easing his transition. Most scouts feel he'll be better suited on the right side due to his outstanding run-block abilities, but expect Carimi to given first shot on the left side, at least for this season.
If the team goes the opposite direction and moves Carimi to the right side, expect a training-camp competition to ensue between Williams, Omiyale and J'Marcuss Webb for the starting left tackle spot. Webb, a seventh-round rookie last year, was a pleasant surprise. He earned the right tackle gig after Omiyale made the switch to the left side. Even though he stayed there for the rest of the season, it was a very rough road. PFF ranked Webb the absolute worst right tackle in 2010.
If that competition comes to fruition, it wouldn't be surprising if Williams wins out. He's a natural left tackle who hasn't yet been given an opportunity to play there for a full season. The team is hesitant to write him off, so expect the coaching staff to give him every opportunity to be a starter.
According to PFF's pass blocking grades, Williams was the eighth worst guard in the league last year. He was serviceable at best. He's obviously not comfortable in that position, so it only makes sense to move him outside.
The hole at left guard, though, cannot be easily filled by a player on the Bears' current roster. Last year, Edwin Williams, John Asiata and Herman Johnson all had an opportunity to claim the position but none outshone the others. As such, they are not in the team's future plans.
One player who is on offensive line coordinator Mike Tice's radar is Levi Horn. Horn was an undrafted free agent last year and spent the season on the practice squad. The team increased his pay late last season and the coaches have mentioned him as a possible contributor next year. He's worth watching in training camp to see if he can earn the starting gig at left guard.
What makes the most sense for Chicago would be to sign a top-tier guard in free agency. The market is loaded with talent. The front office could use the money it saved by cutting Tommie Harris and restructuring Julius Peppers' contract and spend it on an interior mauler. The addition of such a player would go a long way toward solidifying the front five.
Olin Kreutz is in the twilight of his career and probably only has few more good years in him. He's currently a free agent but all signs point to him returning next year. While his production has slipped some, he's still a quality veteran. PFF ranked his pass blocking performance last season the ninth best of any center in the league.
His presence in the middle will be a stabilizing force for a group in transition. The lockout has wasted valuable time for the coaching staff to iron out the starting front five, so having a veteran like Kreutz in the middle will prove highly valuable.
G Roberto Garza
David J. Phillip/US Presswire
Roberto Garza is another cagy veteran who will provide needed stability. He's been a starter in Chicago for the past six years, yet his production is dropping. PFF ranked Garza's pass blocking efficiency the 17th worst of any guard in the NFL in 2010. He isn't the best blocker on the team and can get eaten up by bigger defenders. Yet the team doesn't have many other options and will likely count on his experience for at least one more season.
The starter at right tackle will be decided based on who is chosen to start at left tackle. The team could drop Carimi in right away and keep him there for years to come. Yet he's never played on the right side. Slotting him in at a new position without the luxury of offseason training activities and minicamps, as well as the possibility of a truncated training camp, could set him up for a rough rookie season.
The team might be best served keeping Webb on the right side. If he can continue to progress, he could turn into a quality player. He's still young and has the size and quickness to perform at a high level. Again, the lockout severely hurts Webb, as the time he's missing could have been used to sharpen up his skills. If all else fails, the team could start Williams at right tackle, where he played in 2009.
With the offense heading into its second year under coordinator Mike Martz, the time coaches and player have been forced to stay apart is greatly hindering this group's progress. Of all the units on the team, the offensive line is the one that could unravel due to the lockout. The front five gave up 56 sacks last year, the most in the league. If that number is unable to improve due to the work stoppage, it's very unlikely the offense, specifically quarterback Jay Cutler, will be able to take the next step.
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