Work in Progress

Bourbonnais - The off-season additions at the skill positions upgraded the overall talent level of the offense, but the most important acquisition may be the signing of Fred Miller.

The ten-year veteran signed a five-year $22 million deal with the Bears. That kind of investment in a 32-year-old tackle doesn't come lightly. Miller has proven to be a durable performer, as he's started 118 games in his career, including 102 consecutive contests dating back to 1998.

Quarterback Rex Grossman is a big fan of what he's seen out of Miller.

"Fred Miller is 312 pounds of just solid man," Grossman said. "He's a strong guy, smart, he's been around the league, he understands it, he's tough."

With Miller on board at right tackle, John Tait shifted over to the left side. Tait hasn't played the position since 2001, but did start the first 34 games of his career at left tackle.

Injuries and poor play resulted in the Bears using seven different starting combinations on the offensive line last year. Center Olin Kreutz was the only lineman to start every game.

There were several factors in why the offense finished last in virtually every category league wide, but Tait is refuses to be an apologist.

"When you look at the numbers, we gave up a whole lot of sacks, we didn't score a lot of points, we were terrible on third down and that all starts with the offensive line," Tait said. "Whatever the excuse people want to come up that's not what we're interested in, we're interested in going forward and doing better this year. That starts with the offensive line and we're kind of taking that personnel."

Four of the five projected starters have at least seven years of experience in the league and no less than 79 career starts.

"It's the strength of our team," Grossman said. "I really feel like we're going to go as far as they go."

The same could not be said a year ago. The team surrendered a league high 66 sacks, which with Grossman coming off major knee surgery is a number the Bears don't want to cut in half.

"If we can keep him healthy then we think we'll be pretty successful," Miller said. "We think that rests on our shoulders. He's a young guy and he definitely has to be the leader. You feel like it is your little brother so we're going to take care of him and make sure he's safe this year and he can throw the ball around."

Despite the veteran presence of the group, it will take time for the unit to come together. Three players that started games are no longer with the club, while Miller and Roberto Garza were added through free agency.

"In order to be a great offensive line you have to have a lot of continuity," Miller said. "You've got to be on one page and I think that's what we're doing right now is just getting our chemistry down and getting all timing down."

The only undecided spot appears to be at right guard. Terrence Metcalf currently holds the top spot, but Garza and Steve Edwards are also part of the mix. Whoever wins the job will have the luxury of playing with two interior linemen that have a combined 12 Pro Bowl appearances between them in Kreutz and left guard Ruben Brown.

The depth of the unit is certainly better than it was in recent memory because several players have the capability of filling in at multiple positions.

Garza and Metcalf can play all three spots on the interior of the offensive line. Edwards and Qasim Mitchell have experience at both guard and tackle.

The line has a chance to gauge their progress on a daily basis going up against a defensive line that is expected to surpass last year's sack total of 22.5.

"We have our work cut out for us," Miller said. "We've got a lot of great personnel on defense and it's going to get us better and at the same time we're going to get them better. If we can go out and block this line then we'll be all right."


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