Positional Analysis: Offensive Line

The strength of the offense became the big nasties up front. The offensive line proved their poor showing in 2004 had more to do with scheme and injuries. The group became one of the best in the league, but will the success last?

OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters - LT John Tait, LG Ruben Brown, C Olin Kreutz, RG Roberto Garza, RT Fred Miller. Backups - G Terrence Metcalf, T John St. Clair, OL Qasim Mitchell, OL Steve Edwards.

The Bears finished 8th in the league in rushing and went over 2000 yards on the ground for the first time since 1990. A large part of the credit has to go to the offensive line because the opposing defense frequently stacked the line of scrimmage.

Pass protection dramatically improved from the previous season. The Bears surrendered an NFL high 66 sacks in 2004, but cut the number to 31 with only Kreutz starting every game.

Tait's move to the left side might have provided the Bears with the biggest upgrade of any position. His pass protection was solid, and the Bears ran most successfully to the left side all season.

Brown is effective when healthy, but he will turn 34 this month, he's starting to break down more frequently than he did during his eight straight Pro Bowl seasons and could be nearing the end. He has one-year left on his contract and would prefer to keep playing. The Bears would be smart to wait before giving him any type of extension.

Kreutz made his fifth straight Pro Bowl and is writing a Hall of Fame type of career. While he doesn't always make the right choice, such as his off the field altercation with Miller, he's not just a line leader but a team leader who is tough, quick and football smart.

Unrestricted free agent Metcalf started the first 12 games and 13 overall, but Garza, who signed a six-year extension at the end of the regular season, looks like the logical starter next season. Metcalf is bigger and stronger, but Garza plays with better technique. If Metcalf doesn't find starters money on the open market, the Bears could still try to bring him back at a cheaper price. He's a versatile blocker that can play all three interior positions.

Miller is an iron man with good size who has played well in big games, but he'll turn 33 next week. There's a good chance he will not play out the remaining four years of his contract in a Bear uniform.

St. Clair is a veteran with starting experience who filled in as a starter for one game at each tackle spot and established himself as a reliable swing tackle. He will become an unrestricted free agent on March 3rd, but the team is working on a new deal to keep him in Chicago.

Mitchell and Edwards are both former Bears starters who couldn't cut it in that role and who didn't have an opportunity to prove themselves as backups in '05. Mitchell will get a chance to shake off the rust after being allocated to NFL Europe.

This is an effective but aging group. The Bears haven't invested a first day draft pick on the o-line since 2002, when GM Jerry Angelo took OT Marc Colombo in the first round and followed with Metcalf in round three. For the first time in club history, the Bears went back-to-back years without selecting an offensive lineman. The last pick on the line was Bryan Anderson, a seventh round choice out of Pittsburgh in 2003.

Spending a first day selection at tackle or guard would be a wise investment. With three starters on the wrong side of 30, it would give a prospect time to develop and be ready to take over a starting role in a year or two when a veteran retires or begins to falter.

Scout.com contributed to this report.

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