A deeper look at our Offensive Line

I'm back,

I know it's been a while, but I am back and ready for action here at Windy City Gridiron. WCG and I decided to do a positional review across the board.  The review is going to be somewhat vast and look at current players and the free agents or soon to be rookies that could replace them.  It will have a wide scope at first, but should anything huge happen with the resigning, loss, or draft of a player we will narrow the scope and focus on that certain player.

To start off this chain of stories we will focus on the Offensive Line.  I really believe that a lot of our success and failure began and ended with the line.  I don't think we should be quick to throw every member of the line under the bus, but we need to be realistic about our chances in the draft and free agency.

Lets begin by taking a look at our current players.  As things stand now on chicagobears.com our depth chart looks like this (Back ups in Italics).

LT - John Tait; John St. Clair
LG - Terrance Metcalf; Anthony Oakley
C - Olin Kreutz; Anthony Oakley
RG - Roberto Garza; Josh Beekman
RT - Fred Miller; John St. Clair

I have been sore about the line all year long.  Sure, Benson and Grossman struggled out of the gate, but the line play was just plain bad.  It's hard to analyze an O-line and its effectiveness.  However, I think I found some help.  I don't put a ton of weight into Gregg Easterbrook's football writing, but once in a while I appreciate what he has to say about the little things in Football.  In a recent article he notes the success of the Patriots O-Line and a reason why they are so good.

The single most impressive thing about the 17-0 New England Patriots is that the offensive line never screws up and never has anyone standing around watching. Watch offensive line tape -- for most NFL teams, there are several downs per game on which the line call is totally fouled up or an offensive lineman simply stands there watching, doing nothing. I have not seen a single busted line call or stand-around-doing-nothing down for New England all season! Consider that when Garrard was sacked and lost a fumble in the first half, taking a lot of air out of the Jacksonville challenge, Jax guard Vince Manuwai, who got some Pro Bowl votes this season, was just standing there, blocking no one, watching Garrard get in trouble, not making the slightest attempt to hustle back and help.

Unfortunately, we can't say our line has busted their butt and never stopped hustling.  No, no instead our line has looked like Mr. Manuwai at times with Miller being the biggest culprit.  That has been the biggest downfall of our line.

Our huge holes have been at LG and RT.  At LG Ruben Brown started for most of the year before bowing out with a season ending leg injury.  Brown wasn't horrible, but it just seemed as though he lost his touch.  During the 06-07 campaign Garza, Kruetz, and Brown seemed unstoppable and our line appeared to be in great shape.  It seems as though father time caught up with Brown and his future with the NFL and let alone the Bears is in doubt.  In other Guard news I believe that Garza is young and will still be a vital part of our line, but Brown's replacement Terrance Metcalf was abysmal at best.  Apparently, he was so bad that they tried playing John St. Clair out of position at guard instead of him at the end of the year.  Speaking of St. Clair I am not a fan at all as he hasn't shown us much during his career here in Chicago.  He has been referred to as the "revolving door" on Chicago sports radio and unfortunately having the largest backside on the team hasn't allowed him to have success on the line.  Thankfully, our backups at guard are young.  I don't know much about Anthony Oakley aside from him being a 2 year veteran out of Western Kentucky, but at 26 there is hope he can still develop into a good player.  Josh Beekman was a rookie out of Boston College last year and at 24 still may have a ways to go before he is ready to start.  I don't think either of these young men are the answer to our line woes, but it is nice to know that there is some youth in the wings.  I just hope Angelo has the gumption to go out and get 6 years and running pro bowler Alan Faneca from the Steelers and help us solidify the inside of our line.

Speaking of the inside of the line Kreutz is still Kreutz and I am happy that we have a Kreutz.

Unfortunately, the Tackles on our team don't have youth with our youngest being St. Clair at a ripe age of 30 (plus 8 years of playing time on the Odometer!). I believe his chance to be a starter has passed him by.  Our Tackles were weak this year and in my opinion Tait is a much better player than Miller, but even with my opinion at 33 and 34 respectively they still are not getting any younger.  However, even though Tait is only one year the junior of Miller in age he is three years younger in playing time.  Tait was a blue chip first round selection by Kansas City in the 1999 draft while Miller was a 5th rounder out of the 1996 draft.  We can only hope that Tait has a few more good years left in the tank, while Miller has left me with little or no hope at all.  To be honest I haven't really thought about the free agent market for tackles.  That is partially because I just don't care and partially because Angelo has some big money invested in Miller and Tait and I doubt he would go drop more O-Line money on anyone but Alan Faneca.  This position appears to be ripe for some injection of youth, and this is why I expect Angelo to at least... at least draft an OT in the first round.  I don't put a ton of weight into mock drafts, but the value of seeing how many prospective first round selections is helpful.  In Mel Kiper's first mock draft (Insider) he has us taking Sam Baker (OT) out of USC at our draft position (14th).  Before Mr. Baker Kiper has Jake Long of UM, Ryan Clady of Bosie St., and Jeff Otah of U Pitt all going before Baker.  I believe Jake Long is the best of the bunch, but certainly won't be there at 14, but one of those guys will and we definitely need some youth in this position.  As much as I don't like Miller I would be fine with him starting another year as long as we had someone drafted and waiting in the wings, and with Miller and Tait finishing their contracts after next season our OT position could be in a lot of trouble come 2009.

Ideally I would like to see this as our lineup next year.

LT - John Tait; John St. Clair
LG - Alan Faneca; Terrance Metcalf
C - Olin Kreutz; Anthony Oakley
RG - Roberto Garza; Josh Beekman
RT - Fred Miller; Draft Prospect

I really want to give the coaches a chance to reevaluate the team, but I will be honest I really dislike Miller and Metcalf and I don't want them starting.  Unfortunately, I don't think it's realistic for the coaching staff to bench Fred Miller.  I think a good compromise would be to get a good OT in the draft who can take over in 09.

Finally, what do you think?  Is there a free agent I missed or don't know about? Does anyone else out there hate Fred Miller as much as I do?

Until next time.

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