Not all bad

Although the offensive line has had their share of penalties and struggled to protect the quarterback, the Bears' 381 rushing yards in the past two games is an indication that massive right tackle <!--Default NodeId For Aaron Gibson is 722183,2003--><A HREF=[PlayerNode:722183]>Aaron Gibson</A> is getting the job done, along with the rest of the revamped offensive line.

Center Olin Kreutz and right guard Chris Villarrial are the only returning starters from last year's opening-day lineup. The 292-pound Kreutz and 318-pound Villarrial are also the smallest members of the group. Left guard Steve Edwards is 340 pounds, left tackle Mike Gandy is 325 and Gibson is 375.

After taking some time early in the season to jell, that group has cleared the way for Anthony Thomas' resurgence -- 286 yards on his last 45 carries, a 6.4-yard average. He averaged just 3.4 yards per carry last season.

With a passing offense that is still struggling, the Bears are expected to rely on the run Sunday at noon in New Orleans against a Saints defense that is No. 25 in rushing yards allowed.

"They're big guys," Kreutz said of his o-line mates. "They weigh a lot. They get on you and start moving, they're going to move you out of the way. They're going to wear guys out."

There was concern during training camp, when Gibson took over for injured Marc Colombo, that he would wear down because of a lack of conditioning and excessive weight. But Gibson said, "hands down," he's in the best shape of his pro career.

Gibson doesn't say he feels a new man, though.

"I feel like a lighter man," he said, "and it helps a lot when I'm out there, just being in shape. It makes my whole game a lot easier. Everything's a lot easier.

"I'm not thinking, 'Man, here's a play where I (ital) have (end ital) to pull,' but rather, 'Good, here's a play I (ital) get (end ital) to pull.' Conditioning has helped with all of that."

Last offseason, Gibson saw an opportunity with the Bears and made the commitment to regaining the level of conditioning that made him an impact player in college. He had a lot of help.

"A lot had to do with my wife (Lucie)," he said. "She just took care of me and made sure that I had what I needed, the food was ready, and the it was the right stuff rather than going to McDonalds, or things like that and picking up food.

"My priorities changed. I started listening to Russ (Riederer, the Bears' physical development coordinator) and people like that, and saying to myself, 'This is what you've got to do, this is your job,' and then doing it."

So far, Gibson is definitely pulling his weight.

The specter of Gibson pulling from his right tackle spot and moving full speed along the line of scrimmage with the intent of eliminating any obstacles in Thomas' path can be daunting.

What goes through a defensive player's head? His facemask? Fear is one emotion Gibson has seen in those situations.

"A lot of times," he says quietly. "I'd probably think the same thing if I weighed 250 and a 375-pound guy was coming at me."

That the Bears use Gibson to pull at all is an indication of how far he's progressed in his conditioning. His ability to run well enough to pull and lead interference as a Wisconsin Badger made Gibson as All-American and a first-round draft choice in 1999.

But injuries and a tendency to pack more than 400 pounds on his 6-foot-6 frame resulted in Gibson being released by the Lions and Cowboys before the Bears took a chance on him last Nov. 26.

With his size and power Gibson would seem to be most effective going straight ahead and obliterating the man across from him. But he doesn't have a problem turning the corner and playing on the move, destroying anyone in his path.

"It's just getting around there as fast as I can, making sure I stay low and just trying to blow the guy up," he said. "I've always pulled, so it's not much of a difference for me. It's something I enjoy doing. As long as you're in shape, you can handle it."

For Gibson, 375 pounds is in shape.


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