The Baltimore Ravens are a good example of a struggling offensive line just finally clicking. They had a number of issues early in the season, made a few adjustments, and ended up playing good enough to win the Super Bowl. Are the Chicago Bears a few adjustments away from having a serviceable offensive line?
In the 2012 season the Bears allowed 44 sacks, the 8th most in the NFL. Right behind them in 9th, with 41 sacks allowed, was the San Francisco 49ers, and not far behind was the Ravens in 11th place with 38 sacks allowed.
With the running QB dynamic the Niners have, they were 4th best in the NFL in rushing yards, but the Bears finished one spot better than the Ravens in 10th. How far off the Championship pace are Chicago's men in the trenches?
I think between between the off season work the young guys will put in, the few additions to the roster Phil Emery is sure to make, and the new offense being implemented, that the Bears could have their best O-Line showing since the 2006 Super Bowl team.
We're breaking up the o-line into three separate posts, last week we hit on the centers, this time out it'll be the guards, and later this week I'll dedicate a post to the offensive tackle position.
So far in this series we've touched on quarterback, running back, wide receiver, tight end and center, so if you want to discuss those positions be sure to click the Story Stream link.
If you're looking for a breakdown of Edwin Williams, I grouped him in with Roberto Garza and the centers, and even though Gabe Carimi played some guard, I believe his immediate NFL future is at tackle, so he'll get the Roster Turnover treatment next time out.
Lance Louis - Free Agent - Louis will be 28 in a couple of months, and his best football could be ahead of him, but coming off an ACL tear it's hard to know what kind of value the new coaching regime will place on re-signing him. He did start 11 games at right guard, and he does seem to have the strength and athleticism to play in any scheme, but what kind of money will he be seeking? I think the Bears will try and bring him back, unless he severely overvalues his worth or some team overpays for his services. Looking at the Pro Football Focus grades, I don't think the later will be a problem.
PFF had him ranked down in 47th place with a -1.9 overall grade, and among fellow free agent guards there were 19 guards that had at least 100 snaps that graded out higher than Loius. PFF did give him a favorable grade in the passing game, but a -8.1 grade as a run blocker really drug his overall grade down.
I think given his injury, the Bears will try and bring him back with a modest raise and a short contract.
Chris Spencer - Free Agent - Spencer was brought in to replace Olin Kreutz two years ago, but the lockout slowed his acclimation to the Bears. Chicago had Garza taking the center snaps, and he played good enough to keep Spencer on the bench. With two somewhat mediocre years in Chicago, I don't see Spencer getting a lot of action in free agency, and I don't see him returning to the Bears.
James Brown - Signed though 2014 - James Brown is listed as a tackle on the official roster, but all his action was spent at left guard. I thought given the circumstances surrounding Brown he had a good rookie season. He went from undrafted free agent, he was released, brought back to the practice squad, promoted from the practice squad on 11-21, forced into some guard duty on 12-2, then starting the final three games of the regular season.
Brown was a tackle in college, and a tackle with Chicago until a depleated roster kicked him inside. Overall PFF gave Brown a -6.4, but if you look at the 4 games that he saw expended action, you saw a young player improving. In weeks 14 and 15 he had a -9.8 grade, but in weeks 16 and 17 he rebounded to a +2.9. I don't know if Brown is ready to challenge for a starting position in 2013, but I know he's an NFL caliber player.
Plucking James Brown as an undrafted free agent was a very good coup by Phil Emery.
Chilo Rachal - Free Agent - In the 8 games he played at left guard, PFF had him with a -12.1 grade, and in 74th place. Couple that poor grade with his drama and Rachal may have played his last snap in the NFL.
Nick Pieschel -Signed through 2014 - Pieschel has experience at both guard and tackle while at Central Florida, and it's probably that versatility that got him noticed in the first place. Lovie Smith and Phil Emery must have thought enough about him to keep him around via the injury list last year, so he'll at least have a shot in camp to show the new coaches what he can do.
Chris Riley -Signed through 2014 - The Bears signed the former Illinois State product to a reserve/future contract after spending a little time on their '12 practice squad. The Bears are his third team in two years in the NFL.
Derek Dennis - Signed through 2014 - Derek Dennis, or as he is known in the Twitter world, @6BONECRUSHER3, was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Dolphins, before being released on the first day of training camp. You may have caught that on HBO's Hard Knocks.
The Patriots then signed him, released him, and he eventually made his way to the Chicago practice squad on 11-28. When he played at Temple he was known as a strong run blocker.
2013 OUTLOOK - As referenced above there are quite a few free agent options available for the Bears, with Andy Levitre being the top guy most mentioned around WCG. Signing Levitre, who played all 16 games at LG for the Bills last year, would cost a pretty penny. If the Bears decide to drop some cash on a guard, they would probably allow Lance Louis to walk. San Diego's Louis Vasquez started all 16 games at RG, and would be another option.
Draft wise, the Bears will probably look to add a guy on the interior at some point. The consensus #1 guard, Alabama's Chance Warmack, will probably be taken before the Bears choose at twenty, but if he slips as guards sometimes do, he's a no-brainier. Jonathan Cooper from North Carolina also has a 1st round grade, and could be a possibility.