The overwhelming opinion of fans and analysts is that the Chicago Bears need upgrades along the offensive line. Heading into this year's draft, most believed the team needed to draft at least one front five blocker, if not two.
Obviously, Bears brass doesn't share those beliefs, as the club completely ignored the offensive line with its six picks last weekend.
As GM Phil Emery passed on blockers over and over in the draft, the outcry became louder and louder. Since the final round ended, the cacophony of dissent has reached thunderous levels.
The Bears have allowed the most sacks in the league the past two seasons combined. It's believed that, for as long as Jay Cutler has to run for his life on nearly every pass play, Chicago's offense will never reach elite status.
Yet, in order to place accurate blame, one has to consider the blocking scheme put in place by the man in charge the past two seasons, former offensive coordinator Mike Martz. Throughout his history of running of offenses in the NFL, Martz has consistently under-blocked on passing plays. Martz wanted four-to-five receiving options on every play, and had a disturbing man crush on five- and seven-step drops, even if that meant sacrificing the health of his quarterbacks.
Even when Martz was at his best, orchestrating the Greatest Show on Turf for the St. Louis Rams more than a decade ago, his quarterback, Kurt Warner, was constantly being roughed up. Martz had a two-time MVP, and future Hall of Famer, directing his offense and he still refused to leave running backs in for extra protection. On the vast majority of Warner's drop-backs, the front five was solely in charge of keeping him off the turf.
This did not change in Martz's stints with Detroit and San Francisco, and it was the same while he was in Chicago.
Yet Martz is gone. Mike Tice is in charge of this offense. There is no chance Tice will put Cutler in harm's way like Martz did. Tice has already expressed his desire to chip on opposing defensive ends and to shift blocking schemes to support the edges.
By changing coordinators, the Bears instantly improved the offensive line. That was the first step in building confidence toward the current group going forward.
"I like the look of our offensive line with the guys we have lined up right now," said coach Lovie Smith a few weeks before the draft.
Tice expressed similar confidence this offseason as well, which should have tempered expectations that the team would upgrade the front five.
Carimi, last year's first round pick, played six quarters at right tackle in 2011 before being lost for the season with a knee injury. Considering how little they got from him as a rookie, the Bears are looking at Carimi as a first round pick this year. In essence, he's the rookie offensive tackle Chicago fans were clamoring for during the draft.
T Gabe Carimi
Williams, who has played left guard the past two years, was performing at a high level before a wrist injury cost him the team's last seven contests. By getting the team's two best linemen back from injury, the front five should improve dramatically this year.
"We as a coaching staff are going to try and put the players in a better position, adding Chris and Gabe to the mix," Smith said in his post-draft press conference. "There's a period of time as you might have forgotten, during [last] season, where we played pretty good ball on the offensive line."
Yet left tackle is the biggest concern. J'Marcus Webb struggled mightily for most the campaign last year. When left out on an island on the backside, Webb looked like a turnstile at times. He didn't show the necessary quickness and balance to consistently protect the left edge.
Yet, outside of USC's Matt Kalil, drafted by Minnesota fourth overall, there was not a pure left tackle in this year's draft. A few players might develop into quality left tackles, but there was no slam dunk this year. The talent just wasn't there, at least not on the left side.
In order to remedy this problem, the club will likely give Williams the opportunity to challenge Webb at left tackle, the position for which Williams was drafted 14th overall in 2008.
"We have options with [Williams]," Smith said. "We'll see how it all shakes out. Chris of course can [play] both [tackle and guard]."
Assuming he stays healthy, Carimi will be a Pro Bowl right tackle, and Williams should provide an upgrade on the left side. So right there, the Bears have improved pass protection.
This cannot be discounted.
Carimi's injury last season forced Lance Louis from right guard to right tackle, where he was borderline awful. Sliding him back inside also improves pass protection.
Additionally, moving Williams outside opens up the left guard spot for Edwin Williams, who is easily the best pass-blocking guard on the team. His improvement late last season, filling in for Chris, earned him a two-year extension.
And let's not forget Chilo Rachal, whom the team signed a week before the draft. The four-year veteran provides even more competition on the interior. And Smith said the team is still looking at options in free agency.
G Chilo Rachal
Jason O. Watson/US Presswire
"Adding Chilo also, we've added a couple guys, there's still a few options out there too," Smith said. "Believe me, we want to do everything we can to open up holes for our running backs and of course to protect Jay Cutler and we feel like we'll be able to do that."
Immediately after the draft, the Bears signed undrafted free agent offensive tackle James Brown, arguably the best offensive lineman on the market. He has a lot of potential and should challenge for the swing tackle spot.
By getting healthy players back, sliding a few of them around and changing the blocking schemes, the club feels Cutler will be much better protected in 2012.
And lest we forget, the Bears were ninth best in rushing as a team last season, rushing for 2,015 total yards – the first time in 20 years a Chicago club has rushed for more than 2,000 yards.
As run blockers, even with a patchwork front five and injuries to nearly every running back, the club still produced on the ground. One can only assume, with Michael Bush replacing Marion Barber and Carimi, a mauling run blocker, back in the fold, the Bears will continue to move the ball on the ground.
So while it would have satiated Chicago fans and analysts to have drafted offensive linemen, the Bears have a good plan in place for the front five going forward. It's a plan that justified the club foregoing the offensive line with its six picks in this year's draft.
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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.