Projected starters: Chris Williams, Frank Omiyale
A first-round pick in the 2008 NFL Draft, Williams was essentially forced to redshirt as a rookie because of a disc problem in his back. He worked his way into the starting lineup in 2009, albeit at right tackle instead of left tackle after the free-agent signing of future Hall of Famer Orlando Pace, but when Pace finally proved to be playing on borrowed time, Williams switched over to left tackle down the stretch and performed quite well. Omiyale is penciled in as the starter on the right side, as he too is going home after a one-year sabbatical last season at left guard, which proved to be a bad idea in the end.
Projected backups: Kevin Shaffer, James Marten, J'Marcus Webb
Given a look at left guard here and there during the offseason program, Shaffer is now out of that race there and should be the primary backup to both Williams and Omiyale if anything goes wrong. Experienced at either position, Shaffer could give Omiyale a run for his money on the right side in training camp but most likely will end up as the No. 3 swing tackle off the bench. While Marten is a journeyman reserve and a long shot to make the 53-man roster, Webb was a seventh rounder this past April and has a future in the NFL if offensive line coach Mike Tice can help him develop.
Although it didn't receive nearly as much fanfare, the Bears signed Pace the same day they made the trade with Denver for Jay Cutler and thought he would be the perfect stopgap at left tackle for a season or two. But despite the fact that Pace was past the injuries that slowed him down his last few years in St. Louis, he didn't have anything left in the tank and simply couldn't bend his knees enough to push anyone off the line of scrimmage in the running game. Williams is a prototypical finesse left tackle and didn't belong over on the right side, which is a more physical position, and Chicago's blocking as a whole improved greatly once Pace was put out to pasture.
If there is a first-time Pro Bowler in the making offensively for the Bears this season, it may be Williams since he can finally play left tackle for a full 16-game schedule and used to protect Cutler's blind side when the two of them played together at Vanderbilt. The coaching staff seems to have all the confidence in the world in Williams, and perhaps they should since he came to the Windy City with first-round pedigree, but the fear that his back will flare up again is always there. Yes, Omiyale is a tackle by nature and never seemed to be a good fit inside at guard, yet he's far from a sure thing as a bookend to Williams since he has started a grand total of one game in his career at tackle, and that was on the left side with the Panthers in 2008.
OT Chris Williams
I'd much rather have ...
Ryan Clady and Ryan Harris in Denver. Selected just two spots ahead in the same draft that produced Williams, not only did Clady make his first Pro Bowl last season, but he was also a first-team All-Pro. Harris isn't the strongest right tackle in the league and still has a long way to go before he's a difference maker, but having an absolute anchor on the other side of the line will make his job so much easier. Bears coach Lovie Smith really liked Clady but was forced to settle for Williams.
But they're better than ...
Alex Barron and Marc Colombo in Dallas. Now that Flozell Adams is no longer in Big D, the Cowboys are hoping Barron benefits greatly from a change of scenery. A first-round pick in the 2005 draft, Barron flip-flopped back and forth between left and tight tackle in St. Louis but never performed particularly well at either, which is why he was traded to Dallas for nothing more than reserve linebacker Bobby Carpenter. Originally a first rounder of the Bears, Colombo did a nice job coming back from all the injuries he endured in Chicago but got hurt again last season and has probably played his best football.
Confidence-o-Meter: 6.2 *
While it may have taken his career a little longer than expected to get off the ground, there are many pro personnel-types out there believing Williams is already Chicago's best offensive lineman. Cutler was sacked a career-high 35 times this past year, and there were several other times when pressure had him making bad decisions, as evidenced by a league-high 26 interceptions. Omiyale can't be any worse as a tackle than he was as a guard, and that's far from a ringing endorsement, but his learning curve isn't nearly as steep as it was a season ago.
* 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 offensive tackles. 10.0 is the Pace the Bears thought they were getting, the one that went to seven straight Pro Bowls from 1999-2005.
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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.