Role Reversal

The lack of depth at offensive line caused many problems at the beginning of last season with tackle Marc Colombo and guard Rex Tucker on Injured Reserve and Kordell Stewart under center. Everything is completely different now with the 2003 season in the rear view window. Aaron Gibson and Steve Edwards each started all 16 regular season games at right tackle and left guard respectively, but could find themselves on the bench this season.

"I am hoping I can fit in," Gibson said. "I am doing what I can just listening to the coaches, I hope they have a plan for me and whatever it is that it works out."

Qasim Mitchell only started two games last season before breaking his leg. However the 367-pound tackle is currently looked at as the top choice to start at left tackle.

"I have been told I am going to get my chance and that's all I can ask," Mitchell said. "I am going to go out there and practice hard and whatever spot they decide to put me in that's the spot I am going to get a starting chance at and that's the spot I am going to play."

Ideally the Bears would prefer 2002 first-round draft pick Colombo protecting Rex Grossman's blindside, but after a career threatening injury in his rookie season he's not even close to being ready to play. Tucker is completely healthy and looks to return for the first time in nearly two seasons, while pro bowl center Olin Kreutz is as dependable as they come. The new man on the line is right tackle John Tait, who made a strong impression on his new teammate.

"I think it could do nothing but help," Gibson said. "He is a great player and has proven himself over the years and has done a great job so it can do only good."

While the Bears are still pursing eight-time Pro Bowl guard, Ruben Brown, Mike Gandy is currently the top option to replace Chris Villarrial at right guard.

Meaning there does not appear to be an open spot ready for Gibson or Edwards to fill. The positive spin on the situation is that Gibson finally has a home after bouncing around with Detroit and Dallas. Edwards on the other hand was able to gain a full season of starting experience in just his second year in the league.

"I think it (starting) helped me out a lot," Edwards said. "I am not as experienced as everybody else, but I got a taste of what I am going into. It's totally different than going in and not knowing what's going on."

Edwards, Gibson and Mitchell will get plenty of on field opportunities regardless whether they start or not. Along with experience one aspect of next season that will be easier is preparing to block for one quarterback's style. Both starter Rex Grossman and backup Jonathan Quinn are more drop back passers as opposed to the scrambling Kordell Stewart and the completely immobile Chris Chandler.

"That gives you a chance to get used to Rex's cadence," Edwards said. "You don't have to worry about how one quarterback says on one, you get into the groove and it actually makes the offensive line better because you can get your calls out and you can come off the ball it's an overall good timing."

Mitchell also feels having Grossman, as a starter is a positive step for the entire team.

"It's good to have Rex as the quarterback of the future," Mitchell said. "It's positive for the future of the Bears you don't have to look around for who's the quarterback, there's no controversy we just go straight in and concentrate on what's important, winning games."

After the first mini-camp the offensive line appears to be satisfied with the new coaching staff and the atmosphere around Halas Hall.

"I see everybody's attitude is a whole lot better," Mitchell said. "We walk around like we're a championship team, so it won't be long before we are one. It has a lot to do though with everybody staying healthy. All the switching comes in when somebody gets hurt or has a nagging injury and you have to plug somebody in for them, but I think the best offensive line is an o line that stays healthy and is a consistent group of guys."

The Bears can only hope the injuries are limited during the season and that the best five offensive lineman can lineup on the field, but if there is a mishap there is now depth and experience to call upon.


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