Stopgap or Step Up

The Bears were the NFL's youngest team in 2004, a distinction that GM Jerry Angelo is going out of his way to make sure doesn't happen again anytime soon.

The addition of a pair of 32-year old players in a little over a week means the Bears are looking for veteran leadership, particularly on the offensive line.

"Experience was a factor in this decision given the youth we have on our offensive football team and we feel we have addressed that with both Muhsin (Muhammad) and Fred (Miller)," GM Jerry Angelo said.

The o-line had new starters at four different positions last season and will have at least three this year in Fred Miller, John Tait and Terrence Metcalf.

Tait started at left tackle for two years, but his lined up at right tackle for the past three seasons. He will now be expected to protect Rex Grossman's blindside.

Terrence Metcalf is currently the starter at left guard. While started the last five games of the season there, he's still unproven.

Ruben Brown started nine games before having season ending neck surgery. After ten years in the league there's no guarantee he'll return to form.

The Bears surrender an NFL high 66 sacks in 2004 and offensive line coach Pete Hoener was fired because his unit often looked lost. New offensive coordinator Ron Turner plans on running the ball is relying on Harry Hiestand, whom he was able to bring with him from Illinois, to be his right-hand man.

Hiestand will be integral in implementing the new scheme. He was with Turner for eight years in Champaign.

"He'll play a huge role in putting this system in, protection schemes, the run schemes, the techniques," Turner said. "We're on the same page; we're very comfortable with all that. As we put this in, he'll be able to give a lot of input and understand where this offense starts from and what the key elements and the key ingredients are. Knowing where to start the teaching process and the teaching progression, that's really what it is. You can't come in and throw the whole playbook at them and say, 'Here, learn this and let's go.'

"It's a progression. We've got to start with the formations, the line calls, protections and things like that and then progress forward and he's got a real good understanding of what this offense is all about and how to do that."

Despite the numerous changes, Miller is confident in the potential of his new linemates.

"With the four guys that we have here and the addition of myself, I think we're going to be probably one of the better offensive lines in the league," Miller said.

Along with Miller, 32, the offensive line has two other players over the age of 30 in Tait and Brown. All three of which have come to Chicago via free agency.

Although Angelo believes in building through the draft, a series of injuries have forced the Bears to go out and buy an offensive line.

"We do have players that we're developing, but we've had some injuries on our offensive line that have been duly noted and all were young players, we're talking about Rex Tucker and Mike Gandy and Marc Colombo," Angelo said. "All those players obviously had an impact not only in the health of the line but in the development of the line."

Tucker is most likely going to be looking for work after June 1st. He's got four years left on his contract with a base salary of $1.9, 2.6, $3.15 and $3.3 million due over the remaining course of the deal. He was a Pro Bowl alternate when the team signed him to an extension at the end of the 2001 campaign. However, over the past three years he's finished the season on IR with three different injuries.

Gandy started 30 games at three different positions over three seasons, but was more a utility player than a legitimate starter.

Colombo missed 30 games because a serious knee injury he suffered in his rookie campaign. After nearly a two-year absence, Colombo returned to the field but showed rust during spot duty and starts in the final two games of the season.

Olin Kreutz is locked in at center. He has been named to the Pro Bowl in each of the past four seasons.

There is a chance that Qasim Mitchell could possibly return to his original position of guard and challenge Metcalf for the starting gig along with Steve Edwards.

For the time being, Mitchell will compete with Colombo for the swing tackle role.

"Yes, we want to get a veteran line," Angelo said. "That's not to say that we wouldn't draft an offensive lineman and that we don't have players that we're developing."

There isn't an offensive lineman worthy of the fourth overall pick. However, the team could seriously look at a young offensive lineman in the second round or more realistically later part of the draft.

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