In the Line of Duty

It turned into a math game that didn't add up for the Bears. The offensive line used seven different starting combinations last season when injuries and poor play went hand-in-hand. The Bears gave up a league-high and franchise record 66 sacks. In turn, the offense finished dead last in virtually ever category.

It was a no-brainer the Bears needed upgrades up front.

In the off-season, management went out and signed Fred Miller, a nine-year veteran who has started 102 consecutive games dating back to 1998.

Miller, 32, who played on a Super Bowl team in St. Louis, started all 80 games at right tackle over a five-year span in Tennessee. He was signed to a five-year, $22-million deal with the Bears, an investment the team feels had to be done. The 6-foot-7, 320-pounder fits into the team's plans at right tackle, so they can move John Tait over to the left side.

"We're still struggling with (chemistry) right now, especially with the defensive line playing (well) together," Miller said recently at training camp. "We have our work cut out for us. 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, we'll be all right."

Miller knows how important chemistry and continuity can be for an offensive line. He helped pave the way for five 1,000-yard rushers during his seven years as a starter, with four by Eddie George in Tennessee.

That run included George's career-high 1,509 yards in 2000. In Miller, the Bears got themselves a durable and dependable blocker, who can provide leadership and hopefully big yards in both the running and passing games. With Rex Grossman coming off a knee injury that sidelined him the final 13 weeks of the season, the Bears could use any type of upgrade on a line that had only center Olin Kreutz start all 16 games.

"When you look at the numbers, we gave up a 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," said Tait, who started the first 34 games of his career at left tackle, his new position this season.

"Whatever the excuse people want to come up with, we're not interested. We're interested in going forward and doing better this year. That starts with the offensive line and we're kind of taking that personal."

Four of the five projected starters have at least seven years of experience in the league, and no less than 79 career starts. However, it will take time for the unit to develop chemistry. Three players that started games are no longer with the Bears and guard Roberto Garza was added via free agency. Terrence Metcalf is currently the starter over Garza at right guard, with Ruben Brown in place on the left side. Steve Edwards, who is versatile enough to play tackle or guard, is also in the mix. Unlike last season, the Bears have some depth on the line.

"If we can keep (Grossman) healthy, 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."

Bears vs. Miami
Where: Canton, Ohio
When: 7 p.m. today
TV/Radio: ABC (Ch. 7); WBBM-AM (780)

Bear Report Top Stories