The Chicago Bears knew they needed to protect their shiny new toy in quarterback Jay Cutler, so they immediately brought in reinforcements up front by signing future Hall of Fame offensive tackle Orlando Pace the very same day.
A seven-time Pro Bowler in the NFC and a three-time All-Pro, Pace was a big reason why the "Greatest Show on Turf" was so successful in St. Louis back in the glory days of Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk. If not for the 6-7, 320-pounder keeping enemy pass rushers at bay from his left tackle position, more than likely Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt wouldn't have had so much time to get open downfield and rack up all those 1,000-yard seasons through the air. While not a skill-position player, the former No. 1-overall pick in 1997 was an integral part of one of the most explosive offenses the NFL has ever seen.
However, after three consecutive injury-riddled seasons that forced him to miss 25 of 48 games along the way, the Rams cut ties with Pace as they begin the rebuilding process under new head coach Steve Spagnuolo.
The Bears, on the other hand, are hoping one of the best blockers the game has ever seen still has enough left in the tank to be a bookend for last year's first-rounder, Chris Williams – maybe he can be a mentor on the field and in the locker room, too. And since general manager Jerry Angelo had to give up a pair of No. 1s in order to pull Cutler out of Denver last week, his ability to fortify the O-line through the draft has been severely compromised. With a gigantic hole at wide receiver yet to be filled and depth needed at several defensive positions, Chicago simply can't afford to select another young tackle early right now.
Suddenly, Pace's resurrection is one of the keys to the Midway Monsters returning to the postseason after two straight January-less campaigns, but what are the odds he returns to form at 33 years of age?
To help answer that question, Bear Report enlisted the help of Howard Balzer, who is the Publisher of Gridiron Gateway on the Scout.com network.
Balzer Says: Pace still can handle some of the best pass rushers thanks to his size and experience. He is not an overly explosive player initially, but he does a sensational job of securing contact and then driving with his legs for movement. When he fires off the ball aggressively, he can be quite powerful because he is strong through the upper body and can steer or torque smaller defenders. He still changes directions well and has recovery skills when given inside-out shake. Run blocking is not his strength, and injuries have been an issue the last three seasons. He has a solid one or two seasons of quality play ahead of him in Chicago, assuming he stays healthy.
JC's Take: The addition of Pace was a much more calculated risk after the Bears had already inked Kevin Shaffer, who is a durable starter in his own right and was only let go by the Browns because he was due a $1 million roster bonus.
While it would be unreasonable to assume Pace will automatically revert back to his old dominating self simply by staying off the injured list, Balzer suggests that the veteran can still get the job done – perhaps playing his home games outside on grass instead of inside on turf will help save his knees. Fortunately for the Bears, they don't need Pace to perform at a Hall-of-Fame level in order to improve in the trenches, especially if he switches to the less taxing right tackle position and Williams sticks at left tackle. If Pace and Williams can provide Cutler with enough time to throw in the pocket, the Chicago passing attack has life and Matt Forte won't have to face as many eight-man fronts.
Signing Pace was indeed a gamble, but it's a gamble worth taking because of the potential payoff – plus the prior signing of Shaffer hedges the Bears' bet.
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Insider Analysis: OT Orlando Pace
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