22 Starters in 22 Days: Fred Miller

The addition of Fred Miller played a part in the offensive line coming together in 2005. While the veteran right tackle is dependable, how much does he have left in the tank as he enters his 11th year in the league?

Although Miller started 15 games in his first season with the Bears, he saw his consecutive start streak snapped at 110. The remarkable accomplishment came to an end because of a broken jaw, which he suffered during a fight with teammate Olin Kreutz at an FBI shooting range.

The incident brought more attention to Miller than anything he did on the field during the season. The lack of talk about an offensive lineman is nothing new and means the job is getting done.

The six-foot-7, 320-pound Miller proved he could still perform against the best pass rushers in the league. He came back a week earlier than expected from his broken jaw to handle Pro Bowl DE Julius Peppers in the Bears' 13-3 win over the Carolina Panthers.

Even though Miller should be able to remain effective this season, he his contract runs through 2009. At 33, there's major doubt that he'll play the length of the entire deal. With both Miller and left tackle John Tait on the wrong side of 30, the Bears need to find a tackle to groom for the future.

Taking five defensive players in draft leaves the Bears with little hope to find a diamond in the rough. Sixth round pick Tyler Reed is a long shot to make the roster, as are the four undrafted free agent offensive linemen the team signed.

Miller can buy the Bears another season or possibly two at right tackle, but he's more of a stopgap measure than a long-term answer. By ignoring the o-line in the draft, general manager Jerry Angelo will have to make it a priority next off-season.

The difference in an aging Ruben Brown and Miller entering the twilight of his career, is the Bears have a quality replacement already on the roster at guard in Terrence Metcalf. John St. Clair started at both left and right tackle for the Bears in 2005, but is nothing more than a career backup.

There are bad memories of what a poor offensive line does to disrupt a team. In 2004, the Bears allowed 66 sacks and started four different quarterbacks on their way to a last place finish in the NFC North.

With all five starters returning, as well as the top reserves, the offensive line looks deep. However, an injury at tackle or a veteran losing a step could quickly turn a strongpoint into a question mark. Not a comforting thought considering Rex Grossman's injury history and Brian Griese is coming off major knee surgery.

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