Last season, when Chicago Bears left guard Chris Williams was lost due to a wrist injury, the coaches immediately elevated Edwin Williams to the starting lineup. He started seven games to finish the campaign, showing steady improvement in each contest.
Williams (6-3, 315) – a former undrafted free agent in his third year with the Bears – played so well that the front office signed him to a two-year extension late in 2011.
Yet this season, coordinator Mike Tice chose to insert Chris Spencer at left guard, after sliding Chris Williams outside to tackle. Throughout training camp and the preseason, Edwin Williams served as the primary backup to Roberto Garza at center, and never took any reps at guard.
G/C Edwin Williams
Instead, Chilo Rachal, signed to a one-year deal in the offseason, served as the club's swing guard. When Spencer failed at guard in the first two games this year, Rachal was elevated to the starting lineup. All the while, Williams has yet to crack the active lineup through 10 games.
Rachal has struggled recently and was demoted this week, which led to his departure. Yet instead of giving Williams a shot at the left guard, after two players have already failed at the position, coordinator Mike Tice chose to re-insert Spencer.
This is a confusing move to say the least.
The area in which Chicago's offense has struggled the most has been pass protection. The offensive line has allowed the second most sacks in the league (34) and played arguably its worst game of the season on Monday night, giving up six sacks to the San Francisco 49ers.
The problem is that Williams is by far the club's best pass blocker. He proved it as a starter last year, showing great balance and awareness. Pro Football Focus ranked Williams the best pass-blocking lineman on the club last season. Yet Tice is unwilling to give him another shot, despite the porous pass protection all season.
With Rachal gone, Williams will likely be activated on game days, serving as the main backup for all three interior line positions. Yet if Spencer struggles at all, Tice should not be afraid to quickly make a switch to Williams. And for Williams, now is the time to show in practice that you deserve to be a starter up front.
Placing Williams in the starting lineup will improve pass protection, plain and simple. After the way the line has played this season, it's mind-boggling that he's still wasting away on the bench.
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America.