Even though quarterback Kyle Orton didn't get sacked very often and running back Matt Forte had a breakout rookie season, the Monsters of the Midway weren't very monstrous along the offensive line this past year.
General manager Jerry Angelo spent a first-round draft pick on Chris Williams and tabbed him to be the left tackle of the future, but the former Vanderbilt Commodore tweaked his back in training camp and essentially redshirted in 2008. All of a sudden, John St. Clair, who spent the majority of his journeyman career as a backup and spot starter, was protecting Orton's blind side against some of the best pass rushers in the league – the veteran wasn't too bad overall but got destroyed in two games against Minnesota's Jared Allen. Guards Josh Beekman and Roberto Garza were decent at best, and right tackle John Tait recognized he was sliding down a slippery slope and retired before the '09 campaign.
Players and coaches apparently don't think as much of Olin Kreutz as they did earlier this decade, as he was left off the NFC Pro Bowl team for the second year in a row.
Reasons to be Optimistic
Angelo was incredibly aggressive in free agency with regard to the offensive line, first signing Frank Omiyale and Kevin Shaffer and then going out to get eventual Hall of Famer Orlando Pace.
Pace may not have been as impressive in 2008 as he was when the Rams were in the hunt for the Vince Lombardi Trophy year in and year out, but he professes to be totally healthy now and seems rejuvenated after finally getting out of a terrible situation in St. Louis. Omiyale has been on Angelo's radar for quite some time, and it looks like the lifelong tackle will slide inside and take over for Beekman at left guard – he's bigger, stronger, and better equipped for Chicago's man-on-man blocking scheme. Shaffer is talented enough to start for most teams and is a quality addition as a swing tackle, and he can step in should either Pace or Williams be bitten by the injury bug again.
Pace says he's totally healthy coming into '09.
Warren Wimmer Photography
If Kreutz can resemble the player that was recently named to ESPN.com's all-decade offensive team, this has the makings of a solid quintet.
Causes for Concern
The organization repeatedly said publicly that Williams was perfectly fine moving from left tackle to right tackle in order to make room for Pace, but he remains a big question mark since he has never started an NFL game.
Offensive linemen don't typically come away with Comeback-Player-of-the-Year awards, so it's only reasonable to expect Kreutz's performance to keep trending downward as it has the last two years. He's still one of the captains of this team and dominates the locker room like few players in this league, but it appears all the mileage he has accumulated to this point is catching up with him – he's also not a fan of the shotgun, which may be called liberally in 2009. As far as these guards are concerned, Garza has never been anything more than an adequate blocker, and Omiyale's next start at that position will be his first.
It can only help that new signal caller Jay Cutler is more mobile than the triumvirate of Orton, Rex Grossman, and Brian Griese ever was, but he's not going to be all he can be in the passing game unless he gets adequate protection.
The Midway Monsters featured one of the better offensive lines in football during those back-to-back NFC North title runs in 2005-06 mostly because the starters had so much experience playing together, not necessarily because they were loaded with All-Pros at every spot. This year's unit looks to be better on paper than last year's, but it takes time to jell. For the first quarter of the season or so, Cutler may have to do some scrambling and Forte might have to find his own holes.
But if Pace still has some gas in the tank and Williams plays as well as he did on tape in college, then the Bears should be able to move the ball consistently.
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.