Earlier this week, Chicago Bears offensive line coach Mike Tice said the starting front five was set and that there were no competitions underway. He then paused and added, "Unless someone falters."
The starters played the entire first half, rare for the first preseason game. Obviously the coaches wanted to get a good, long look at what those five players can accomplish together in game situations.
"Offensive line-wise, we wanted to play them more because there are guys in different positions," coach Lovie Smith said.
The starters allowed two sacks in the first quarter, which isn't all that bad considering just one starter this year is still starting at the same position he was last season: left guard Chris Williams. J'Marcus Webb was shifted from right tackle to left tackle. Rookie Gabe Carimi, who played all four of his collegiate years at left tackle, was inserted at the right tackle spot the second day of camp. To fill the hole left by Olin Kreutz's departure, the team slid longtime right guard Roberto Garza to center. Lance Louis did play right guard last year but only started four games.
This is a completely reshuffled unit that has had just two weeks of practice together. It's going to take some time before they develop some chemistry. Though, as Louis knows, another performance like his last night could slide him down the depth chart.
"I think I played below average tonight," Louis said. "I can't afford to do that. I've definitely got to go back to work and get better."
T Gabe Carimi
Dennis Wierzbicki/US Presswire
Louis and Garza had a rough time in the middle for most of the first half and Webb had real difficulties with the Bills' Shawne Merriman off the edge.
"I gave up a little pressure and as a unit we gave up a little pressure," Webb said. "But that's okay. We'll fix that and move on."
Yet the Bears play their first game less than a month from now, Sunday Sept. 11 against the Atlanta Falcons, the team that finished with best record in the NFC last year. Time isn't something the team has in abundance.
"Thank God we don't play Atlanta right away," Smith said. "Some of that pressure [on the quarterbacks] we need to take care of. It's the first time [the offensive line] has been together. They'll continue to get better each time they play."
Yet one has to believe if the line has a repeat performance this Saturday against the New York Giants, some changes could be made. That would most likely happen through the promotion of Chris Spencer to center. Spencer was solid last night, showing good technique with the second team. He's not a mauler but he's always in the right place. He's noticeably more comfortable at center than is Garza.
If Tice decides to promote Spencer, Garza would move back to right guard, where he has been the starter the past six seasons. Chris Williams was arguably the most impressive player in the first unit last night, meaning Louis could be the odd man out.
What's even more troublesome for the team though was the play of the second- and third-team O-lines, which combined to give up seven sacks in the second half. Levi Horn struggled inside at right guard, as did Josh Davis on the right edge. Frank Omiyale had a typical night, allowing too much pressure, yet he looked like the only serviceable backup, sans Spencer. If any injury befalls one of the starters, the offense could snowball downhill quickly.
The players and coaches preached patience after the game and said it's not time yet to panic.
"They're going to be fine," Jay Cutler said. "I think it took them a little bit to get settled down. Some of those young guys are still gelling a little bit. I think Roberto is doing a great job in the middle. The two young tackles came along in the second quarter. So there are some bright spots out there."
It's safe to say this week of practice will not be easy for the offensive linemen. Tice knows he has a lot of work to do if this unit is going to take the necessary steps for this offense to thrive.
"I definitely think we've got time to get better," Louis said. "Our guys are working-hard guys. We're definitely going to clean up the mistakes and just come back and be a better line."
Follow me on Twitter: @BearReport
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.