Calling All Blockers

New offensive coordinator Ron Turner will have to find a way to improve on the Bears' pass protection if he hopes to have an offense better than last year's No. 32-ranked outfit.

The 2004 Bears allowed a franchise-worst 66 sacks, the most in the NFL, despite spending $33 million on unrestricted free agent right tackle John Tait and another $8 million on eight-time Pro Bowl guard Ruben Brown. This offseason, the Bears signed another couple unrestricted free agent offensive linemen, Fred Miller, who will take over at right tackle, with Tait moving to left tackle; and Roberto Garza, who will contend for one of the guard spots, probably Terrence Metcalf's spot on the right side.

Last year's group so underachieved that offensive line coach Pete Hoener was fired along with coordinator Terry Shea. Turner was allowed to bring along Harry Hiestand, his offensive line coach and right-hand man at Illinois for the past eight seasons, and they have been dissecting last season's train wreck. Turner said there's plenty of blame to go around.

"I think you can look at that and honestly say it was a little bit of everything," Turner said. "I've watched (the) tape many times. Harry has watched it, and we're two guys coming in totally new, not having an opinion about any individual or about anything.

"It was the offensive linemen getting beat at times individually. It was the offensive line not working together as a group at times. It was a little uncertainty and indecision in the offensive line at times. It was a quarterback holding the ball too long at times, missing a hot read or a sight adjustment at times, not getting rid of the ball when he should have. There were receivers maybe missing that sometimes and there was a back getting beat. And there were times where it was maybe the scheme that should have been looked at."

General manager Jerry Angelo has made a major effort to upgrade personnel for the second straight off-season, and Turner already has some basic ideas on how to improve scheme-wise.

"We're not going to ask our tackles to block a defensive end one-on-one 30 times a game," Turner said. "If they do that, those guys are too quick, too athletic and you're going to get beat."

That happened repeatedly last season, especially over Qasim Mitchell at left tackle. The inexperienced Mitchell was clearly the weak link on a line that battled injuries all season, and he allowed a team-worst 10 sacks. Turner said he won't allow that to happen this season.

"We're going to do a lot of things to help them with the backs, with the other offensive linemen," he said. "There will be times where they will have to earn their money and they're going to be one-on-one, but it's not going to be down after down after down."

Schemes and offensive-line personnel aside, the biggest single factor in reducing sacks this season should be the presence of Rex Grossman, if the Bears' designated quarterback of the future can stay healthy. Grossman is far superior to the Bears' other signal callers at getting rid of the ball before he's set upon.

With Grossman playing the first three games, minus the final series in Game Three, the Bears allowed just five sacks, an average of 1.7 per game. They permitted 61 sacks in the 13 games and one series with Jonathan Quinn, Craig Krenzel and Chad Hutchinson, almost five per game.

"This offense is based on the ball coming out quickly," Turner said. "And if it's not, then we're going to give a lot of protection. We're going to keep backs and tight ends in to give extra time if we're going to try to hold the ball a little longer and get it down the field.

"That's why I'm excited about Rex. Rex gets rid of the ball so quickly. He's got a compact delivery and quick release. He makes good decisions, quick decisions, and I think Rex will fit in very well with what we want to do as far as getting the ball out."


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