22 Starters in 22 Days: Olin Kreutz

The leader of the offense usually is behind center, but in Chicago it's actually the player snapping the ball. Olin Kreutz is a five-time Pro Bowler and arguably the best center in the game.

Despite the Bears lack of offensive firepower, Kreutz has been consistently recognized as an elite center. The only center in team history to have more trips to the Pro Bowl is Jay Hilgenberg with seven.

Durability and toughness has allowed Kreutz to lead by example. He's the active leader in starts with the Bears (103), has started 79 of the last 80 games, including 54 straight. He's also the only member of the offensive line to start every game the last two seasons.

The six-foot-2, 292-pounder is the enforcer on a unit that needs more bite than bark. He isn't afraid to get in an opponent's face to backup a teammate.

Kreutz is no angel. His off the field fight with teammate Fred Miller was a distraction during the Bears eight-game winning streak last season. He and Miller came to blows during a visit to an FBI shooting range. It resulted in a broken jaw for Miller and an end to his consecutive game streak at 110. Kreutz received stitches for a cut on his head, but didn't miss a game.

Although the Bears have little in terms of a Plan B if Kreutz were to go down, he's been the only dependable commodity on the offense that changed coordinators in three consecutive seasons (2002-04).

Kreutz is good enough to handle his blocking assignment and then cover for teammates when necessary. He's the glue on what has become one of the better lines in football.

Kreutz is entering his ninth year in the league, yet won't turn 29 until next month. He may have a lot of NFL mileage, but should remain effective into his thirties.

The Bears will have a decision on their hands with Kreutz due to become an unrestricted free agent after the 2007 season. To keep him in a Bear uniform the last time he hit the open market cost $23 million over six years.

At this point, there's no young prospect to groom for the future. While the Bears could address the situation in next year's draft, Kreutz is the only starter on the o-line not to come through free agency.

General manager Jerry Angelo has shied away from using high draft picks on the offensive line. When he has, the results have been mixed at best.

If Kreutz continues adding Pro Bowls to his resume, he could be headed for a Hall of Fame career. Making sure he retires in Chicago seems like a must.


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