Positional Analysis: Offensive Line

The guys up front may not get the credit when a back breaks off an 80-yard run or when the quarterback has time to throw the deep ball, but they're critical to the equation.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LT Mike Gandy, LG Steve Edwards, C Olin Kreutz, RG Chris Villarrial, RT Aaron Gibson. Backups -- G Terrence Metcalf, T Qasim Mitchell. Returning injured starters -- LG Rex Tucker, RT Marc Colombo.

Only Kreutz and Villarrial were starting at their natural positions last season. Kreutz made his third straight Pro Bowl and did a commendable job of keeping a line populated by journeymen and players playing out of position together. Villarrial is no worse than the second-best member of the line, but he is an unrestricted free agent and might be too pricey for the Bears, who have a good deal of young talent, although injuries are a huge concern.

The other worry is that despite an ample supply of talent, there is not a true left tackle on the roster.

While the chances of Villarrial coming back are slim the Bears would be wise to invest money in someone to protect Rex Grossman's backside.

There are several top line tackles on the free agent market, but they will not come cheap. Although Orlando Pace and Walter Jones are head and shoulders above the rest, they both could be franchised tagged virtually guaranteeing they'll stay with their respective clubs. Green Bay's Chad Clifton and Kansas City's John Tait are also possibilities.

Gandy has spent most of the past two years out of position at left tackle, and he clearly is not the answer there, although he might be a solid player inside at his natural position of guard.

Gibson started at right tackle all of last season and held up for an entire season for the first time in his career, but he is unable to handle speed off the corner and tends to wear down because he's overweight.

Edwards filled in adequately, although he had always been a right tackle before last season. That also appears to be Colombo's best position, if he can recover from a dislocated kneecap that has sidelined him since November of 2002.

There is concern that Colombo's dislocated kneecap from No. 18, 2002, has taken an inordinate amount of time to heal. The Bears insist he'll be fine and that the rehab has just taken longer than expected, but there are concerns.

Tucker was an above-average player before he suffered a dislocated left ankle and fractured fibula in the fifth game of the 2002 season and torn tendons in the other ankle in the final preseason game last year. At 27, he's still young enough to become a solid starter.

Metcalf started two games when Villarrial was hurt and could be part of the future if Villarrial leaves via free agency. Mitchell also got a pair of starts when injuries piled up, and he could have a future, possibly even at left tackle.

The Insiders contributed to this report.

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