22 Starters in 22 Days: Guard

Leading up to training camp, JC will preview all 22 starters for the Chicago Bears on both sides of the ball – strengths, weaknesses and whatever lies in between. Today, we look at the guards.

Projected starters: Roberto Garza, Josh Beekman (?)
Four of the five positions along the offensive line appear to be set in stone, including Garza, who has started every game the last four seasons at right guard. Critics will say that he is nothing more than an adequate player and might not be a starter for half the teams in the league, but Garza is good enough to get the job done and does a pretty good job generating some push on running plays his direction. The left guard position, however, is completely up for grabs, as Beekman is the most experienced candidate but can't necessarily be called the front runner at this point.

Projected backups: Lance Louis, Johan Asiata
Both Louis and Asiata are entering their second years with the organization, as Louis was a seventh-round pick in the 2009 NFL Draft and Asiata bounced on and off the practice squad as an udrafted rookie free agent. Originally a tight end in college, Louis actually saw most of his time at tackle this past season, but his athleticism suggests he may turn into a reliable pulling guard one of these days. Like Louis, Asiata is being given a fair shake at the starting gig, and while Beekman is also in the mix, he got stuck playing center for the majority of the offseason program because Olin Kreutz was recovering from surgery on his Achilles.

2009 Review
General manager Jerry Angelo convinced himself that a career backup tackle would thrive at guard, but since Frank Omiyale is now lining up at right tackle, that's all the evidence you need to know about how poorly the shift inside went. While Omiyale gave no indication whatsoever last training camp that he was a better player than the incumbent Beekman, the Bears started Omiyale anyway in order to justify all the money they gave him in free agency. Garza was typical Garza last year, good but not great, as he has been from the moment he arrived from Atlanta.

2010 Preview
You can analyze the skill-position talent in Chicago until you're blue in the face, but unless Jay Cutler gets better protection up front and Matt Forte has wider holes to run through, Mike Martz's high-flying offense will be stuck in neutral. The Bears have had a bad habit during the Lovie Smith regime of simply anointing certain players as worthy of starting, as opposed to having true competition in practice, so it's refreshing to see a three-horse race developing at left guard. On the bright side, if Kreutz's play improves at center now that he's healthier and Chris Williams becomes the left tackle he's supposed to be as a former first-round pick, the Bears can get away with a so-so blocker at left guard in between those two.

G Josh Beekman
Jonathan Daniel/Getty

I'd much rather have ...
... Steve Hutchinson and Anthony Herrera in Minnesota. Hutchinson is one of the better guards in recent memory, and while Herrera might be nothing special, the Vikings have been able to survive with an average right side of the line since their left side with Hutchinson and tackle Bryant McKinnie has been so good for so long. Adrian Peterson is great and Chester Taylor certainly did a terrific job, but Minnesota has pounded opponents to the left time and time again because of Hutchinson and McKinnie.

But they're better than ...
Jacob Bell and Adam Goldberg in St. Louis. The Rams have one of the most dynamic running backs in the NFL, but even though Steven Jackson rushed for 1,414 yards this past season and added 51 catches out of the backfield, he only managed to score four touchdowns. That had a lot to do with his inept offensive line, particularly at guard. Bell is a decent pass protector but doesn't open up holes on the ground, and Goldberg isn't a good enough athlete to compete with today's defensive tackles.

Confidence-o-Meter: 4.8 *
Again, statistical data suggest Garza is an above-average run blocker at his position when the play call is headed his way, but that strength may be lessened to some degree because of Martz's propensity for more of a finesse ground game. Who will be Garza's complement at left guard is anybody's guess, as it seemed as if Beekman, Louis and Asiata were all leading in the clubhouse at some point in OTAs. Although new offensive line coach Mike Tice looks to be an upgrade over Harry Hiestand, superior talent wins more games in the NFL than superior coaching.

* Much like Ron Swanson from "Parks and Recreation" came up with a scientifically perfect 10-point scale for human beauty, JC has done the same with confidence in guards. 10.0 is Russ Grimm in the heyday of "The Hogs" in Washington.

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John Crist is the Publisher of BearReport.com, a Heisman Trophy voter 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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