Led by perennial All-Pro Olin Kreutz at center, the Monsters of the Midway did a very good job in the trenches last season. Although the running game got off to a slow start, the combination of Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson led the way to the tune of 119.9 yards per game on the ground – 15th in the NFL. Jones and Benson were doubly effective down the stretch as the O-line became more comfortable with the two-pronged attack.
In the passing game, Rex Grossman may have had his ups and downs, but at least he was on his feet more often than not. The Bears surrendered just 25 sacks in 16 games, which tied for sixth fewest in the league. Compare that to the Oakland Raiders, who were allowing their signal-callers to get sacked 4.5 times on average every Sunday.
The only problem is that the Buckingham Fountain – that's the Married with Children fountain for all you non-Chicagoans – is not the Fountain of Youth. Tackles John Tait and Fred Miller are 32 and 34, respectively, and Pro Bowl guard Ruben Brown is 35. Even Kreutz will turn 30 next month, so guard Roberto Garza (28) will be the only member of the starting unit still in his 20s.
Now if there is one position in football where players can continue to perform at a high level well into their 30s, it's along the offensive line. But the fact remains, this group needs to get younger at some point.
Enter Josh Beekman, a fourth-round pick in the NFL Draft out of Boston College. GM Jerry Angelo was expected to address his aging offensive line maybe a round or two earlier, but Beekman appears to be a steal and probably should not have been available on the second day. A starter at both guard and center who played against top competition in a BCS conference, he'll watch for a year behind his veteran teammates but will be expected to start in 2008.
Angelo liked what he saw in Beekman and knows that his versatility could come in handy.
"We saw him quite a bit during the year and saw him at the Senior Bowl," said Angelo. "And he played center and guard, and [we] thought he was a good prospect that played at a good level at Boston College."
Angelo isn't expecting Beekman to contribute right away and acknowledged that it takes time for a lineman to prepare for the pro game.
"It usually takes a good two years to develop a lineman if you are doing it right," he said. "Not to say that a rookie can't come in and play the first year. I have seen that happen. But as a rule, it takes a good year to develop."
Not only did Beekman start at guard and center at BC, but he would actually play both positions in the same game. According to Bears director of college scouting Greg Gabriel, Beekman would move from guard over to center every third series or so in order for the Golden Eagles to rotate other offensive linemen into the lineup. Gabriel admitted that he had never seen such a thing, but his ability to do so was quite intriguing and very impressive.
Beekman feels fortunate to have been drafted by a team that will always put a heavy emphasis on running the football.
"When I fielded a call from the Chicago Bears organization," Beekman said via conference call shortly after he was drafted, "my heart fluttered for a little bit because it is a great organization. Just a couple months ago, they are playing in the Super Bowl. And just seeing it all on TV and all the big name players from the Bears just fighting for that ring made me very excited. And to be selected by the team right now, bring it on."
The opportunity to learn from a pair of Pro-Bowlers in Brown and Kreutz is another reason why Beekman is happy about his new situation.
"It is a great honor," he said. "I haven't played a single down in the NFL. I recognize that. I know that. And as good as the defensive linemen were that I played against in college, they're even better in the NFL. Coming into the Chicago Bears right now, I can learn from some of these great linemen. Like some tricks on how to play a great lineman or a strong team. I feel very humbled and very fortunate to be in this situation."
Not only does Beekman need to learn everything he can from Brown, but he must also be prepared to push him aside before long.
|John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and Editor in Chief of BearReport.com. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.|