O-line can be a Tricky Equation

Despite the absence of an offensive lineman worthy of a top ten pick in this year's draft, one GM grades this as the best crop in a decade. However, a Bears' decision maker believes free agency and expansion have hurt the position.

"This is probably as good looking a group of offensive linemen as we've probably seen for, I don't know, 10-12 years. This is an outstanding group," said Titans general manager Floyd Reese.

"Historically we've seen the jelly-belly kind of guys that weigh a lot that maybe aren't real tall. This group is just outstanding from a 6-6, 6-7, 6-8, 310, 320, 330, still flat-bellied, athletic and can do a lot of things. Let's hope this is an indication of more to come."

Despite Reese's opinion, only a handful of prospects are likely to be selected in the first round.

Florida State's Alex Barron is projected to be the first lineman off the board, but the tackle will likely go in the middle of round one.

Jammal Brown from Oklahoma and Washington's Khalif Barnes are the only other two tackles that will be given consideration in the first round.

The only guard to be given a first round grade is Virginia's Elton Brown.

Aside from quarterback, the front line has been hurt more by expansion than any other position.

"That's the thing that's concerning a lot of NFL people. The offense is going real well except for the offensive line. There aren't enough linemen to feed 32 teams, just not enough," said Bears GM Jerry Angelo.

While prospects continue to get heavier, the increase in mass has come with a negative tradeoff.

"We have to have an athletic guy, or at least a guy with a degree of athleticism. We're seeing big kids but big kids who can't move," Angelo said.

Free agency has also impacted the chemistry good offensive lines develop over time.

Plugging in one new starter with four that have worked together for seasons is difficult enough, but when multiple players have to be replaced that's when disaster can strike.

On opening day of last year, center Olin Kreutz was the only holdover from the previous season's inaugural game. In other words, the four other positions had new starters.

The team will be in a similar situation this season, with new starters expected at three different spots.

"You'd be ok if you could keep all these guys," Angelo said. "You find out their nuances and go from there. You take one away, it affects the other four. Unfortunately we've seen that first-hand the last several years. Consequently you're seeing guys drafted probably two rounds higher than where they should go, relative to their peers."

The lack of quality prospects coming out of the college ranks coupled with hits in free agency have made the offensive line coach among the most important hires a team can make.

The Bears allowed a franchise worst 66 sacks in 2004 and as a result Pete Hoener was fired as the team's o-line coach after just one season.

New offensive coordinator Ron Turner brought a familiar face with him from the University of Illinois. Harry Hiestand, who replaced Hoener, worked under Turner for eight years as the o-line coach and will be counted on heavily to help install the new offensive philosophy.

"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."


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