The best quality of our offensive line is its versatility; multiple players capable (depending on your definition of "capable") of playing multiple positions. Versatility is generally perceived as a beneficial quality to have in just about any walk of life. Like a running back being a good blocker and receiver, or a business manager with good people skills, or Kev's ability to walk and chew gum. But, a key component of versatility means being competent at multiple tasks. Excelling at these tasks is a extension of competency, or simply an added benefit of your multiple abilities. For the Bears offensive line, no matter what the time of year or situation, there seems to be another positional change. And I'm not even looking at the starting lineup; I'm talking about specific players changing their primary position for the benefit of team. The only problem with this tragic misuse of versatility? It keeps failing.
To be fair, I'm just a fan like you that has some modicum of football-related knowledge (and happens to write for a fansite); I don't know more than Lovie or Tice or any of the other professionals that make decisions concerning the Chicago Bears. The nonsense that is our offensive line - shuffling starters and asking undrafted or late round picks to play like veterans with starting experience - has obviously gotten old for most of us. But the thing that grinds my gears more than that as a fan: is the team's inability to even keep guys in a particular position and frakking (is that with two k's or one?) keep them there.
The joke last year was about having a guard playing tackle, a tackle playing guard, a center playing guard and a guard playing center. And while the line's performance overall last year wasn't good, we did see some positive things happen before the Cutler injury (23 sacks allowed with Cutler and 26 allowed with the poo-poo platter under center). But the crazy thing to me is just how messed up our offensive line situation is where we have multiple players - make that starters - playing positions different from their primary one. Not only that, but we have guys like Lance Louis going guard-tackle-guard in under a year, or Chris Williams and his wonderful career as a left tackle-right tackle-guard-right tackle-left tackle. In essence, the guy's played a different position each year he's been in the NFL. Even if he didn't suck (which he kinda does), how do you expect a guy to get comfortable and perform at a high level when he doesn't even know what position he'll be playing in a week?
We've all given Lovie Smith flack (well, not personally, but in internet land) for his creation of a new disease called DMS (and if you don't know what that stands for, close this tab, go to eBay, and buy a Vikings jersey). But we've given him a complete pass on just how messed up his amalgamated offensive line is. Bringing together a cohesive offensive line is part and parcel to success in the NFL, but I highly doubt a key element of that process involves having multiple starters playing at a position different from the primary one they've been at the majority of their professional careers. Is the line so bad that we need three or four guys to play different positions then they're accustomed to in order to produce a mediocre (if we're lucky) unit? Why not keep them where they're comfortable and give that a try?
I know a big part of the problem for the Bears' line issues has been talent; Tice alludes to this issue every once in a while, and you get the feeling he's trying to squeeze a diamond out of manure with Webb, not to mention having average guys battle it out for starting reps at other positions (is battle the right word? Maybe "pillow fight" is more appropriate). I don't consider anybody on the line a solid lineman I wouldn't want to lose because of talent - and that includes Carimi since the "best lineman we have" has completed one game as a pro. We have guys we're afraid of losing because what's lingering behind them on the depth chart. And frankly, if you have average guys, I'd imagine the coaches would want them to play up to their averageness by repping the heck out of them, not having them struggle for stretches by playing new positions next to new guys and then (hopefully) succeed at mediocrity.
Being versatile is supposed to be a beneficial thing, something positive that can be used to gain an advantage because of one's proficiency in multiple areas. The Bears' offensive line versatility - the constant reshuffling of player positions - is a good practice or idea turned into an abhorrent trait for any Chicago lineman, except for Gabe Carimi. If there's one thing I like about the offensive line, its that Carimi has been given a chance to learn a position and stay in that position (until they move him, eventually) in order to excel at that position.
Every other member has been shuffled about, with the coaching staff hoping that the newest hand they've dealt will turn out to a winner, despite a losing track record. And if that hand fails, they'll just shuffle again and start over. Just look at the left tackle position. Tice and Lovie inexplicably handed the job to Webb with barely a contest from Williams (which, fine, whatever, it was stupid, but fine), only for that to last one preseason game before Williams reentered the competition for the starting left tackle spot. Why pull Williams away from that battle if you're so disgusted by Webb after one game that you reopen the starting spot? Don't you know what to expect from Webb by now?
In the end, I have a feeling the status of the offensive line (and specifically Webb) will be the new "Forte contract" topic to be beaten into the ground during preseason. Sam already browbeat the Webb situation on Friday, and Les just posted his take on the positional battles along the offensive line. Though the O-line discussion may get a little over the top, remember that the only clear area the Bears have question marks at is on the offensive line, and barring injury, that'll be the difference between a great year or not.