Battle Of The ‘Who-Dat?' Lines

The Vikings can compete with almost anyone when it comes to injuries on the offensive line, but the Bears are certainly contenders for that dubious distinction this year too. Their O-line rotation from week-to-week has been incredible … and troubling.

The only sure thing on the Bears' offensive line Sunday is that Olin Kreutz will be snapping the football.

Of the four players who bracketed Kreutz at the end of Thursday's loss to the Cowboys, it's possible that none of them will be in the same position Sunday against the Vikings at Soldier Field. The Bears have already started five different offensive line combinations this season. It's almost a sure thing that this week's group will be No. 6, and it will be playing in front of Chad Hutchinson, who will be making his Bears debut as the fourth quarterback to start a game in 2004.

"I've never experienced it in my coaching background," offensive coordinator Terry Shea said of the body shuffling. "But the one thing we do have here, in my opinion, is some quality depth. That doesn't lend itself to continuity, but at least it gives us a chance, and thank goodness we have that depth because we need it so badly right now in terms of the offensive line."

Right tackle John Tait isn't expected to play because of a sprained knee, which prevented him from finishing the Cowboys game and necessitated moving Steve Edwards into that spot from left guard. Edwards, who has also started a game at right guard this season, should return to left guard this week, where he was starting in place of Ruben Brown, who is out for the season with a neck injury. Aaron Gibson is expected to spell Tait this week.

The left tackle spot is up for grabs this week between starter Qasim Mitchell and Marc Colombo, and at right guard Terrence Metcalf might start in place of Rex Tucker, who might have been rushed back into the starting lineup too quickly after suffering a dislocated left elbow at the end of training camp.

"It's a real fragmented situation with some of the injuries," Shea said. "And at times, we have lost the one-on-one battle in terms of protection. Therefore, our intent right now is to start with rebuilding our starting unit."

That unit is partially responsible for allowing 25 sacks in the last five weeks, which puts the Bears at No. 31 in sacks per pass play allowed. Bears quarterbacks are on pace to be sacked 63 times, which would shatter the team record of 55 established during the 1-13 disaster on 1969. Jack Concannon, Bobby Douglass, Virgil Carter and Gale Sayers combined to set that dubious record. Sayers was sacked once while attempting a halfback option pass, and Douglass was dropped 37 times for 312 yards in losses, but at least he picked up 408 yards on 51 runs for an 8.0-yard average.

"We weren't blocking, obviously," Kreutz said after Craig Krenzel and Jonathan Quinn were sacked six times on Thanksgiving Day. "They were getting to the passer. We've got to get better; I don't know how else to look at it.

"It's tough on a guy like Steve (Edwards), who has to practice at left guard and then move to right tackle. Metcalf practices at center all week and then moves to left guard. Colombo and Q (Mitchell) are shuttling in and out. You've got to get a feel for the game. These guys are out there battling and doing the best they can, and it's my job to create continuity on the line. I take that as my fault."

Kreutz may be guilty, but he's got plenty of co-defendants, including Krenzel and Quinn, who aren't nearly as adept at getting rid of the ball as was Grossman, who took just five sacks in three games.

"The easy place to start is, OK, our offensive line," coach Lovie Smith said. "I have to say the offensive line was the cause of some of those sacks. (But) you have to say the quarterback position, too, (because) of holding the ball. It's a combination of things. You could even put the receivers in there."

When receivers don't create separation between themselves and defensive backs, and when the pass rush is a deluge rather than a trickle, and when quarterbacks aren't experienced enough to get rid of the ball quickly, sacks and turnovers are the result.

"We're all on offense," Kreutz said. "We're not just O-line, we're not just receivers, we're not just quarterbacks. We're an offense, and the offense is not working right now. The only way we can get better is to look at (ourselves) and correct what (we) did wrong."

There might not be enough mirror space at Halas Hall to accommodate the crowd.


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