The offensive line has been in flux since Gabe Carimi dislocated his knee in Week 2. The Chicago Bears tried Frank Omiyale at right tackle, with disastrous results. Lance Louis played a bit at right guard yet was slid outside to tackle when Omiyale failed. Even Edwin Williams saw some playing time.
Yet the player that has stood out most during Carimi's absence has been Chris Spencer. Signed this offseason to ostensibly replace Olin Kreutz, the career center has been playing right guard instead. Even though he has little experience at the position, Spencer has been the most dependable of the front five over the past few weeks.
Carimi is expected to return after this week's bye when the Bears face the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 9. He will slide back into his right tackle spot. How the rest of the line will shake out is still up in the air. Most feel that offensive line coach Mike Tice will put Louis back to right guard and relegate Spencer to bench duty again.
G Chris Spencer
Yet that strategy would take the team's most dependable interior lineman off the field. For the sake of continuity, it is understandable Tice would want to reinstitute the starting front five he developed throughout training camp. Yet on film, Spencer has shown dependability and intelligence at guard. He's quick down the line and is outstanding picking up defenders in space. Fundamentally, he's a rock.
We spent time in the film room breaking down Spencer's play from Sunday's 24-18 victory over the Tampa Baby Buccaneers to demonstrate why he needs to remain a starter.
-3rd and 7. Bears use a three-receiver set with QB Jay Cutler in shotgun. DT Brian Price is across from Spencer and DE Michael Bennett is across from RT Lance Louis. At the snap, Spencer takes on Price and drives him outside. Bennett takes a few steps forward then slides behind Price on a stunt. Spencer passes off Price then picks up Bennett crashing inside. At the same time, J'Marcus Webb lets DE Adrian Clayborn get pressure inside, forcing Cutler to move out of the pocket. Spencer holds his block and pushes Price past the pocket, opening a lane for Cutler to step up and get the pass off.
On this play, Spencer keeps two players from getting to the quarterback. He drives Price outside where he has help, then picks up Bennett and clears him all the way to the other side of the field. All the while, Webb is allowing his guy to get pressure on the quarterback.
-2nd and 6. The Bears line in up a two-tight end set with Cutler under center and RB Matt Forte alone in the backfield. Before the snap, Matt Spaeth motions from the left edge to the right edge. At the snap, Forte takes the handoff running off-tackle left. Spencer pulls left to lead the play. Clayborn is unblocked initially and Spencer lays a hit on him that stands up the defender. Clayborn eventually recovers and spins Spencer to the ground but not before Forte is already through the hole. The play goes for a gain of 22 yards.
Spencer is the quickest Bears offensive lineman in getting out of his stance and down the line. He's night-and-day faster than Chris Williams. On this play, he streaks down the line and rocks Clayborn, allowing Forte to get to the edge for a big gain.
-2nd and 1. Forte runs on a stretch play to the right. Spencer and Garza both pull right to lead block off the edge. LB Geno Hayes scrapes to the play side yet Spencer gets to the corner first and takes the defender's legs out from under him. This allows Forte to turn up field and scamper 39 yards for a touchdown.
We break down this play in more detail here. This was just an outstanding job of the entire offense picking up their blocks but without Spencer, this play goes for a loss. He got outside immediately, found Hayes and dropped him, which cleared the way Forte.
-1st and 10. Forte takes the ball on a sweep to the left. Spencer releases from the line and gets to the second level right away. He locks on to MLB Quincy Black and doesn't let him go. Black leverages his way play side, but Spencer stays with him, eventually driving the defender onto his back near the sideline.
C Roberto Garza & G Chris Spencer
Richard Mackson/US Presswire
Spencer is Chicago's best offensive lineman at the second level. He gets to linebackers quickly, has great awareness in finding defenders and getting them picked up, and he finishes his blocks. Forte picked up seven yards on this play, thanks in part to Black's inability to pursue the run from the backside.
-3rd and 1. RB Marion Barber runs off-tackle left. The Bucs blitz both linebackers up the middle, yet the line does a great job of sealing everyone to the right side. Spencer slides left to lead block and crushes S Corey Lynch, he was lined up on the left edge of the line. Barber cuts inside Spencer's block and has open field ahead of him. He picks up 28 yards.
Just one more example of Spencer getting quickly down the line, finding a defender and executing a good lead block.
-3rd and 1. The Bears line up strong left with Cutler under center and Barber alone in the backfield. Cutler hands the ball to Barber running up the middle. Garza and Spencer double-team DT Roy Miller. Louis locks up on Bennett and seals him outside. As Barber hits the big hole, Spencer is able to get a hand on LB Quincy Black, keeping him inside. Barber then breaks a couple of tackles and rumbles 11 yards for the game-winning touchdown.
This was a very good run by Barber, finding the hole and then running with power. Yet without Spencer's block, this play doesn't go for a score. Spencer is able to not only keep the defensive tackle inside, but he also clears out a linebacker, which gives the runner the room he needs.
On the left side of the line, Webb and Williams have been shaky at best, and Garza has been mediocre at center. The only player who consistently executes is Spencer. He lacks a powerful upper body, which shows at times, but overall, he's the most-dependable blocker on the team. No matter where he plays, he needs to stay on the field. If he's relegated to bench duties when Carimi returns, it will be to the detriment of the team.
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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.