Open competition? The Leading Candidates at Left Guard for the Chicago Bears

We've had more than a few opportunities to read about what Mike Tice thinks of the guys he has that could play left guard in the coming year. He likes a lot of the young linemen we have, and he likes some of the older guys we have just as much, but it begs the question. Who do you actually want starting at left guard next year?

An open competition is all well and good, but just as important as competition for a position is taking into consideration that an offensive line needs to gel as a unit if you hope to get consistent play, which means this can't be one of the Chicago Bears patented open competition until the last preseason game debacles. Follow me below the fold where we'll take a look at the players we have, why we'd want them starting, and why we wouldn't.

In no particular order...

Lance Louis:

Per CBSSports

Positives: Excellent athleticism and straight-line speed for the position. Able to lead running backs into the second level and beyond when pulling across the line. Gives great effort blocking downfield, at times going 30-40 yards across the field to knock out defenders. Plays with a mean streak. Will hit two or three targets in space and will finish open-field blocks by putting his defender on the ground. Underrated strength at the point of attack, and is well-built in the upper body. Moves well laterally, extends his arms and has a solid punch to keep defenders at bay in pass protection. Good explosion from his stance, and stays low to move his man in goal-line situations.

Negatives: Inexperienced as an offensive lineman. Should move inside at the next level as he lacks prototypical height for a tackle. Has gained 35-40 pounds in a little more than a year, and must prove he can maintain 300-plus pounds on his frame. Could gain strength in his lower body if staying on the line. Needs work on his kick-slide and footwork consistency, as he will get beat when relying on his reach and pure athleticism. Overextends occasionally when trying to punch, ending up on the ground too often. Missed all of 2006 with a torn left ACL suffered in spring practice and did not play during the first month of his sophomore season due to injury.

 

I think this really says it all about Lance Louis, he is literally what would happen if you took a young Brandon Manumaleuna and stuck him on the offensive line. I won't judge that as a good or bad thing, but that's what you'd have. He is inexperienced at the position, and even more inexperienced at LG since he played RG/RT in college in the time he actually spent on the line. I think Louis has promise, but I think he has more promise as Manumaleuna's replacement in two or three years and as a back up than he does as starting LG.

Johan Asiata:

I know what you're going to say, and that's who? Same thing I said, this guy is about as far off the radar as you can get as not only a undrafted prospect, but one of the few notable undrafted prospects who don't even have a rudimentary scouting report that you can dredge up on the almighty intarwebs. Here is what I can share about the guy in spite of this lack of already available information.

UNLV website

UNLV: A huge offensive lineman who continued his development and became an honors candidate as a senior ... Moved from right tackle to left guard in his final collegiate season ... A native of New Zealand, he has played football for just five years ... Name is pronounced "YO-han AH-c-AH-tah."

2008: Earned Honorable Mention All-Mountain West Conference after starting all 12 games for the second consecutive season (started 11 games at left guard and one at right tackle) ... Graded out highest among UNLV offensive linemen at 85 percent for the season ... Did not allow a single QB sack and recorded 34 knockdowns.

2007: Earned his first letter as a Rebel by starting all 12 games at right tackle.

 

And here is what we can say away from what his collegiate record was, he got a year on the practice squad after being picked up as a UFA last year, and has only played football for about six years in total his entire life. He's the very definition of a raw prospect, but the Bears have apparently seen enough in him as far as natural ability goes to keep him around.

I'm not a big college football fan, but my general understanding is the Mountain West conference is a bit of a joke, and has only recently become even remotely relevant in the grand scheme of things, however it's worth noting that 85% percent effectiveness rating as it at least shows his ability to maintain focus while in the trenches, even if it may have been against lesser competition. The fact he was an honors student means more than it might for some other players as he's still essentially learning the game, and being a quick learner may allow him to pick up what he needs before the season starts. 

Josh Beekman:

Again CBSSports

Positives: Has a stout, compact frame with very good upper body muscle thickness, broad shoulders, thick neck, thighs and calves, good bubble and tree-trunk like legs … Has the loose hips to change direction and flow down the line, showing classic knee bend and plant-and-drive agility to redirect … Shows good balance and a strong base to neutralize the bull rush … When stationary at the point of attack, he does an excellent job of using his hands to defeat counter moves … Naturally strong player who has demonstrated an exceptional hand punch to shock and jolt the defender … Moves athletically retreating to protect the pocket and shows good explosion on contact … Type who will immediately break down game films of the opponents once those tapes arrive at the football office … Plays with a high motor and wears his emotions on his sleeve … Mauler type who works hard to finish and will never back down from a fight … Few drive blockers show the initial quickness that Beekman possesses … Comes out of his stance with good urgency, getting into his blocks with hands properly extended, legs wide in his base and his pad level low … Especially effective at gaining advantage on scoop and reach blocks … Excels sliding from side-to-side when working in the short area … Has the loose hips to redirect quickly and is a master at staying on his blocks and riding his man out … In his last three years as a full-time starter, he never allowed a quarterback sack … You will never see him bend at the waist or lean to make contact … Quick getting his hands into the opponent's jersey to lock on and jerk down … Comes off the snap with his hands on the rise, and is very effective at locking on and walling off the defender … Hits with tremendous force and is very good at clubbing the defender in the head or chop blocking to take the opponents off their feet … Road grader who consistently plays with leverage … Keeps his feet moving upon initial contact and is very good at using his hands to move the pile … Has the brute strength to overpower and controls the action with his quick first step and low pad level to maintain position with a strong base … With his quick kick slide, he does a very good job of neutralizing pocket pressure … Has the strength and wide base to hold ground firmly at the point of attack and keeps his hands active to defeat counter moves … Demonstrates keen vision to quickly locate and pick up stunts and flashes good pass set, knee bend and anchor to beat even the quicker defensive tackles … Explodes with force when he hits a defender with his hands … Hits the defender with good force in pass protection and keeps his feet under him to beat the bull rush … Consistent at getting proper hand placement in attempts to lock on and sustain.

Negatives: Shorter than ideal for an offensive guard and might be a better fit at center, but compensates for a lack of height with a very strong base and lower body strength to consistently move the pile … Meticulous sort who tends to overanalyze things and will let bad plays linger in his thoughts … Will struggle a bit to maintain balance working in space (gets narrow with his base and crosses his feet on the move) … Does not have the speed to neutralize second-level defenders and will try to compensate by overextending and lunging, but this is not a problem when working along the line … Adjusts to backside movement, but lacks the ideal speed to stay on the play long once it gets into the second level … Needs to keep his feet underneath him better when working in space and is better served working in the short area, as he does struggle to locate and land on defenders in space.

Compares To: JASON BROWN-Baltimore … Like Brown, Beekman generates an explosive punch to shock and jolt the defender. He has very good initial quickness off the snap and the lower body strength to push the pile, but lacks the timed speed and balance to be consistent attacking second-level defenders. He does a very good job of driving the defender off the line and his low center of gravity and quick hands could see him eventually slide to center at the pro level.

So I'm pretty much on record as being a big fan of Beeker, and honestly think he's the future of the center position on the offensive line, but this is also why I'm against seeing him as the starting left guard.

When he started at LG in 2008 in his second year in the league, he was actually an acceptable player considering the way he was somewhat thrown into the job. You can see by the following stats, courtesy of PFF, that Beekman actually did fairly well at pass blocking, and while he had a bad game here or there, his run-blocking wasn't great, but was rarely abysmal. Also, for a sense of comparison take a look comparing Beekman to other OG that were drafted ahead of him in '07 including Ben GrubbsArron Sears, and Justin Blalock. You can have some fun taking a look at the numerous other guys that were drafted ahead of Josh Beekman, but to say he did comparatively well would be a fairly large understatement.

So here I am throwing all kinds of support behind Josh, but I still don't want to see him at LG again, not because I don't think he's the best guy for the job, but because Kreutz is coming off Achilles' Tendon surgery, and is the very definition of the long in the tooth elder statesman interior linemen. Kreutz is tough as nails, and without a doubt can and will play through any injury that doesn't keep him entirely off the field, but at certain point you have to start making moves for the future and this to me is one of those times. As has been noted by Mike Tice on a couple of occasions, due to Kreutz injury and rehab Beekman is taking the first team snaps at center which means while he has starting experience at LG, he'll be losing out on a lot of time he could be gelling with Chris Williams, and will not be focusing on the LG position through the beginning of camp.

Basically, the only thing that makes less sense than not having your starting LG get reps with the offensive line before the preseason, is having your only real back up center, when you know your current center is getting up there in years and coming off an injury, as the starter at another position along the line. Beekman is going to be a good lineman, and possibly a great center, but this just seems like a bad idea in the mid to long term.

Kevin Shaffer:

Ugh, this is the part I was dreading. When I said this was in no particular order, I lied. I really hate writing what I'm getting ready to write about Kevin Shaffer. He's older, he hasn't played left guard in his entire life as far as I'm aware, but he still might be the best option we have for the position.

He was a fairly dominant left tackle for Tulsa in college, and continue to have a productive career at the same position for the Atlanta Falcons, as a part of a fairly dominating run blocking line the years he was on the team. He was basically let go by Atlanta due to cap considerations as he was playing at a nearly all-pro level at LT right as his contract expired. The Browns picked him up, moved him over to RT, and well he played at a fairly average level. That was the biggest problem with Shaffer's tenure in Cleavland, he wasn't really bad at any point, but they signed him to a fairly large contract and he never lived up to it.

The biggest concern with Shaffer at LG is his height, and the fact he's not really a natural knee bender. He tends to play high and make up for it in part with his above average size, and above average physicality. He'll never be described as fast, and his technique is passable at best. He does excel at run blocking due to being the very definition of a mauler, and that may not be a bad thing.

As I started off this section about Shaffer, I hate to say name him the starting LG because of both his age, and the need to find someone to take the position long term. He's going to be 30 at the start of the season, so even if he's the answer to this specific question, he'll only be one for the next two or three years at best. To reiterate, it's also a position he has zero experience at. However, taking into account his skill set and the positions he actually does have experience at it's not out of the question to see him taking what he learned at RG, combining it with his years of experience at LT, and being a fairly nice mauling LG. He also has the added benefit of not being Josh Beekman allowing him to focus primarily on being prepared to be a starting center, while also giving him the job of being a reliable back up at both LG and C should the need arise.

J'Marcus Webb:

I'd call him JDub, but I'd like to see the kid actually make the team first. I love everything I've heard about him thus far, but he's a seventh round draft pick and to be honest, way too damned tall to be a starting LG in the league. Not to go backwards, but people question Shaffer at LG because he's six foot five inches, add another three inches onto that and you'd have have a damn hard time trying to see over the guy on some of the short routes. Even forgetting the fact that his height basically screams tackle, but he has intelligence and work ethic related issues, both of which spell doom for him attempting to start at any position in his rookie year. Busting up Mike Tice's grill does not a left guard make.

So my personal ranking on who I'd like to see get the nod at LG before going into camp would be...

  1.  Kevin Shaffer
  2. Josh Beekman
  3.  Lance Louis
  4.  Johan Asiata
  5.  J'Marcus Webb 

That ordering could change based on how they look in camp, specifically Asiata who I have little to go on, and how well Shaffer adapts to the change of position. What do the rest of you think?

 

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