22 Starters in 22 Days: John Tait

While the Bears have struggled to find a difference maker at quarterback, protecting the signal caller's blind side hasn't been a problem since John Tait took over the duties at left tackle. The veteran has helped stabilize the offensive line and made the unit among the best in the league.

The Bears surrendered a franchise worst 66 sacks in 2004, but reduced the number to 31 last season.

The difference? It started with Tait moving from right to left tackle, which also created an opening for the team to sign veteran Fred Miller in free agency.

With bookend tackles and the interior of the offensive line returning, the Bears were able to open holes for the running game and keep the pressure in the pocket on rookie QB Kyle Orton to a minimum.

Although five-time Pro Bowl center Olin Kreutz is the unquestioned spokesman of the o-line, Tait has led by example. He signed with the Bears to play right tackle and started 13 games there in 2004. When the left side became a turnstile, he unselfishly volunteered to move in the best interest of the team.

Tait spent the first three seasons of his NFL career at left tackle, but hadn't played the position since 2001. He seamlessly made the transition back to arguably the most difficult spot on the offensive line.

The six-foot-6, 315-pounder is adept at both pass and run blocking. At 31 he's showing no signs of slowing down, an important factor considering his contract runs through 2009.

The only question about Tait is how long he'll stay at left tackle. Miller is 33 and entering his 11th year in the league. Although Miller has four years left on his current deal, it's unlikely he'll finish out the length of the contract. His base salary jumps from $1 million this season to $3 million next year and $4 million in 2008 and 2009.

As Tait enters his mid thirties, the Bears could elect to move him back to right tackle, which would allow him to remain effective during the twilight of his career.

At this point, Tait is near Pro Bowl caliber at left tackle. Similar to young players making their mark, it often takes the league a year to recognize a veteran who has switched positions. The other hurdle will be the offense taking a major step forward. It's difficult to justify sending two members of the same o-line to Hawaii when the unit is ranked 29th.

Tait would never put personal goals ahead of team success, but he made a tough change look easy. There's no reason he can't refine his technique enough to take the next step and in the process help the offense do the same.


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