Draft Decisions: Linemen a Priority

The Chicago Bears have many needs heading into the 2009 NFL Draft, with the offensive line needing some attention despite all the free agent signings. According to Jerry Angelo, tackles that can also play guard are a high priority. Bear Report breaks down what to expect this weekend.

Projected Starters: Future Hall of Famer Orlando Pace was brought it to play the all-important left tackle position, meaning last year's first-round pick, Chris Williams, is moving over to right tackle. Josh Beekman and Roberto Garza return at left and right guard, respectively, although neither is a lock to open the season atop the depth chart. While former Pro Bowler Olin Kreutz remains at center and will inevitably be an offensive captain once again, he's not the player he once was in his prime.

Expected Reserves: Just in case Pace succumbs to injury again or Williams isn't as healthy as the organization would like everyone to believe, veteran Kevin Shaffer has enough experience to start at either tackle. Beekman will be pushed by another free-agent acquisition, Frank Omiyale, even if the one-time Falcon and Panther has spent his NFL career as a backup tackle. The other three linemen now on the roster – Cody Balogh, Dan Buenning, and Tyler Reed – are expendable.

Round 2 Discussion: This is a good draft for tackles, with as many as eight or nine destined for Day 1. While the Bears forfeited a chance to land a can't-miss guy like Michael Oher of Mississippi or Eben Britton of Arizona once they sent their No. 1 to Denver in the Jay Cutler flip-flop, Oklahoma's Phil Loadholt and South Carolina's Jamon Meredith could be there when they pick at 49th overall. As for the guards, top talents Duke Robinson of Oklahoma and Herman Johnson of LSU can be had.

Day 2 Possibilities: Aside from Britton and Loadholt, most of the private workouts arranged during the pre-draft evaluation process have been with middle- to late-round prospects. Tackles like Jason Watkins of Florida and Robert Brewster of Ball State are names to remember, as are guards like Eastern Michigan's T.J. Lang and Penn State's Rich Ohrnberger. GM Jerry Angelo said Tuesday he now prefers tackles that can play guard instead of guards that can play center, which is a new philosophy.

Plan of Attack: If Angelo ignores his most pressing need and passes on a wideout with his first pick, it's a good bet he'll consider the best lineman available at the time. There has been some chatter about a safety in Round 2, maybe Rashad Johnson of Alabama, but Angelo tipped his hand to some degree by saying there are always quality safeties to be found later. Angelo talked about keeping nine blockers on the roster instead of eight, so there is room for at least one rookie and possibly two.

Johnson is a mammoth of a youngster at 6-7 and 364 pounds. (Marc Serota/Getty Images)

JC's Take: Angelo also said Tuesday that protecting Cutler is more important initially than surrounding him with weapons, meaning he won't reach for a receiver at No. 49 unless that receiver can be a playmaker immediately.

While it would be foolish to call the offensive line settled at this point, the Bears have to feel much better about the depth chart now than they did before free agency began. Surely there will be two quality starters that emerge from the Pace-Williams-Shaffer trio, and Omiyale's presence signifies that both Beekman and Kreutz need to step it up a notch. But with Williams going down with a back injury in training camp and essentially redshirting his first year, it will be interesting to see if Angelo hesitates when it comes to taking another lineman early.

The heads at Halas Hall have been collecting tackles since the 2008 season came to a close, so look for that position to continue to be a priority because they can usually slide inside to play guard if necessary.

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John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.

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