Bears 2011 Year in Review: Offensive Tackle

We take an in-depth look at how Chicago's offensive tackles performed last season and discuss what changes, if any, need to be made at the position going forward into 2012 and beyond.

THE PLAYERS

J'Marcus Webb
After starting as a rookie last year at right tackle, the Bears shifted Webb to the left side on the second day of training camp this year. He started slowly and never seemed to improve. Yet, despite how poorly he played, he started at left tackle the entire season. According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), Webb gave up 12 sacks in 2011, the most of any tackle in the NFL. He also led the league in penalties (14). PFF gave him a positive grade in just four games this year. As a pass blocker, he has arguably the worst balance of any lineman in the game. All too often, a defensive end was able to just run right past Webb into the quarterback's grill. His feet are slow and he doesn't sink his hips well. As a run blocker, he didn't fare much better, although he did show some improvement in that area. Of the 76 offensive tackles that played at least 317 snaps last season, PFF ranked Webb 67th.


T Lance Louis
Jonathan Daniel/Getty

Lance Louis
Yet for as bad as Webb was, Louis was even worse. He started the year at right guard then missed three games early in the season with an ankle injury. In Week 5, after Gabe Carimi's knee injury and Frank Omiyale's ineffectiveness, the club moved Louis to right tackle, where he stayed the remainder of the campaign. He started off very well and had people initially wondering who would start at RT once Carimi returned. Yet things went downhill quickly. Over the last two months of the season, Louis was beat regularly by whatever warm body lined up across from him. He showed awful footwork and balance, and didn't play with any nastiness. PFF ranked Louis the fourth-worst tackle in the entire NFL last season.

Gabe Carimi
Carimi was inserted at right tackle on the second day of training camp. The team's first-round pick was subsequently worked over by Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije on a daily basis, yet showed very well in the preseason games. He was arguably the team's best lineman through the first six quarters of the season, before a dislocated right knee robbed him of the remainder of his rookie campaign. From the small sample size we have, we know he's outstanding as a run blocker and solid in pass protection. Talent isn't a concern here; it's his health that has Bears brass sweating. He underwent three operations on his right knee in the three months after it was injured. It's unclear at this point whether he'll be ready to play at the start of training camp.

Frank Omiyale
Omiyale is one of the nicest people you will ever meet. That's about all the good I can say about him. As a football player, he just doesn't have it. In three games as a starter at right tackle, Omiyale gave up four sacks. At that pace, he would have easily beaten out Webb for the most sacks given up in the league.

GRADE: D+

OVERALL

Had it not been for Carimi's solid play, this group would have earned an F. Pressure came off the edge on a regular basis all season long. Jay Cutler was able to perform in spite of it but Caleb Hanie crumbled with defenders barreling in from both sides. The offensive line gave up 49 sacks this year, fifth worst in the league. The tackles were responsible for most of those. In pass protection, this was arguably the worst group of tackles this club has seen in decades.

GOING FORWARD

All four of the team's tackles are signed through next season at least. That includes Omiyale, who will be in the last year of a four-year, $11.5 million contract – I'll give you time to let that sink in.


T Gabe Carimi
Scott Boehm/Getty

The team won't bring back Omiyale but will likely invite both Webb and Louis back to camp next year.

The real issue is Carimi. The kid has the potential to be a Pro Bowler in this league but his knee problems are very worrisome. He was regarded by a lot of NFL teams as an injury risk heading into the draft, which is why he fell to Chicago with the 29th overall pick. The Marc Colombo comparisons aren't viable yet, but they will be if he has another injury shortened season in 2012. If the Bears are going to succeed on offense next year, Carimi needs to stay healthy.

It was clear this year that neither Louis nor Webb are NFL starters at the tackle position. And Louis wasn't all that great at guard either. Expect the team to keep at least one of them, if not both, but neither should be counted on as anything more than a backup.

In my opinion, there are numerous other tackles in both free agency and the draft that are better than those two.

What the Bears need is a young, long-term answer at left tackle. That needs to come in the draft, as NFL teams don't usually allow top-tier blindside protectors to hit unrestricted free agency. Chicago needs to seriously consider using one of its first two picks in 2012 to find that player. Stanford's Jonathan Martin and Iowa's Riley Reiff could fit the bill in Round 1, while Ohio State's Mike Adams and Boise State's Nate Potter would be great options in the second round.

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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of Bear Report magazine and 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.

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