Last year, the Chicago Bears broke camp with the following offensive line: LT J'Marcus Webb, LG Chris Williams, C Roberto Garza, RG Lance Louis, RT Gabe Carimi. By the end of the campaign, due to injuries to Carimi and Williams, the offensive line finished: LT Webb, LG Edwin Williams, C Garza, RG Chris Spencer, RT Lance Louis.
During the second practice session of OTAs yesterday, the Bears showed off a re-structured group. Carimi was on the sidelines, still not yet fully recovered from knee surgery. As such, here was the starting offensive line: LT J'Marcus Webb and Chris Williams, LG Chris Spencer, C Roberto Garza, RG Lance Louis, RT Mansfield Wrotto.
During 11-on-11s, undrafted rookie A.J. Green split reps with Wrotto at right tackle.
OL Chris Williams
Mark J. Rebilas/US Presswire
There were rumblings last week that Williams would be moved back to left tackle, the position for which he was drafted in 2008, to compete with Webb. The two are in the initial stages of what will surely be spirited competition for the starting left tackle spot. They split time evenly yesterday.
Williams said there isn't much difference between playing guard and tackle.
"Football is football. O-line play is pretty much the same across the board, just a matter of who you're blocking," said Williams. "I like to think I can play anywhere so I'm just working, just glad to be back with the team."
A freak wrist injury landed Williams on IR in Week 11 last season. His hand was wrapped in practice yet there was no brace or cast.
"They turned me loose," Williams said. "It's just a tape job so I'm good to go. It's just fun playing, being out here after missing the last half of the season."
Spencer spent his first six seasons in the NFL as a center for the Seattle Seahawks before playing right guard last year. He said he's never played left guard for an extended period of time.
"A little bit here and there but not anything consistent," Spencer said. "Right after the draft, they said we're going to start working you at left [guard]."
Like Williams, Spencer hasn't found the positional change to be overly difficult.
"Trying to change the stance over, get your footwork down and just working on making your arm leg your power leg," he said. "It just takes some time to get used to. It's just working on coming out of a left-handed stance."
Jay Cutler said he's on board with Williams moving back to the left edge.
"If that's the move that upstairs wants to make, then we've got to go with it," said Cutler. "Chris is going to be in position to compete. I think all of those guys except for ‘Garz' has a chance to compete, and at the end of the day, we'll see what best five we have."
Garza is entrenched at center and, assuming he's healthy, so will Carimi be at right tackle. Yet his health is still a big question mark. He dislocated his right knee in Week 2 last year and has had three subsequent surgeries. Seeing him on the sidelines yesterday with a ball cap on, eight months removed from the original injury, was not a good sign.
T Gabe Carimi
Tice said during rookie minicamp that Carimi is on track, but at this point, it's hard to tell what that means. The loser of the Williams/Webb competition would likely slide to right tackle if Carimi can't get healthy.
Yet beyond those three, the cupboard is pretty bare as far as offensive tackles. Which is why the club had Mansfield Wrotto lined up at right tackle with the starters. Wrotto is five-year veteran who has started just 12 total games in his career, all at guard. Undrafted rookie A.J. Greene also got reps at RT with the ones. If Carimi can't play, Tice needs to have ready a suitable swing tackle, but right now, it's unclear who that will be.
At right guard, Louis moves back to the position at which he started out in 2011. After Carimi's injury, and the subsequent poor play by Frank Omiyale, Louis was slid to right tackle. He struggled outside, where quicker defensive ends exposed his lack of lateral agility.
Louis didn't show that well at guard either, where he was often overpowered by bigger defensive tackles. Which is why he'll likely end up competing with offseason addition Chilo Rachal, a four-year veteran who has started 38 games at right guard.
Like Louis, Spencer will also be pushed. In 2011, Edwin Williams started seven games at left guard in place of C. Williams. Edwin was working at center with the second team yesterday but could challenge for the starting left guard spot if Spencer struggles.
All of these positional battles should make for a very interesting training camp.
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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.