The Chicago Bears have 47 players under contract, 15 unrestricted free agents, one restricted free agent and one exclusive rights free agent. They also have five draft choices.
Without offseason workouts, minicamps and organized team activities (OTAs), all position battles for the coming regular season must be decided during three weeks of camp and the preseason games. And anything that adds a sense of urgency to the typically laid-back training camp regimen is a welcome addition.
For the Bears, that means that offensive line coach Mike Tice must make quick decisions when deciding what is the most effective combination up front. That will hopefully allow offensive coordinator Mike Martz to use the full force of his scheme and quarterback Jay Cutler to maximize his talents.
That didn't happen last season, when transition and disappointing production on the offensive line left the Bears dead last in sacks allowed, No. 30 in total yards and No. 28 in passing yards.
Last offseason, Tice admitted that he did not get an accurate read during the spring and early summer of who his best five would be once the bullets started flying. According to Tice, especially on the offensive line, it's difficult to evaluate how players will perform in the regular season just from watching them jog around in shorts in non-contact practices.
So maybe the absence of an offseason won't slow the process of deciding on the starting five. But there are a lot of moving pieces that Tice will be working with. Assuming unrestricted free agent center Olin Kreutz is re-signed, the Bears will have seven offensive linemen who started at least three games for them last season plus first-round pick Gabe Carimi, who is expected to crack the starting lineup, probably at right tackle.
That would likely mean moving last year's surprise rookie starter, seventh-rounder J'Marcus Webb, from right tackle to left tackle, where he would have to learn a new position on the fly. Kreutz and right guard Roberto Garza have played side by side for 5 1/2 years, so they would give the Bears some continuity.
Bottom line, any O-line depth chart should be written in pencil until at least the end of August.
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