Finally we get to the position group I feel was mostly responsible for the Bears ails this past season. I truly believe if you can get the trenches figured out your entire offense will fall into place. The big uglies should be the backbone of any team, but in 2009 there were just too many inconsistencies along the offensive line. Continuity, stability, and familiarity are so important to the success of the line, and the Bears just didn't have it. Playing your LT at RT, a converted RT at LG, a newly signed RT backing up at LT then finally moving over to start at RT, replacing the converted RT at LG for a few games then putting him back at LG, trying to squeeze some more juice out of a Hall Of Fame LT, then shifting your RT back over to LT.
Only the C and RG were left alone, but not one member of the Bears offensive line had what they would call a good year. Is an overhaul in order, or will simply another year working together fix their troubles?
OFFENSIVE LINE - With so many new faces playing in new places along the line I wasn't surprised with the unusually high amount of penalties. Getting your players comfortable with their positions can take more than an off season. If you break the huddle and you are having to think about your assignments rather than it being second nature, you are bound to make some mental mistakes. This especially holds true on the offensive line, where your assignments can change on the exact same play depending on how the defense lines up. Towards the end of the season the line started playing better, my eyes told me that, but statistic wise it was true as well. Pointed out here by MuleTrain.
Olin Kreutz - Signed through 2010 - With the way Kreutz challenged the front office a few months ago I wouldn't be surprised if he were cut. I do think it's highly unlikely considering the way the line started to come together towards the end of the season, and you can not discount what the veteran brings to the unit. So what if he's getting by on experience and guile, he never was a power blocker anyway. I've broke down games and I just don't see his play as bad as many make it out to be. Most centers have trouble with the giant DT's and NT's in the league. He's a technique player (always has been) that isn't driving defensive lineman off the ball ala Nick Mangold, but he's the best the Bears have at center right now. If the best Kreutz can be is an average player, I'll take his knowledge of defensive fronts, his ability to make all the calls at the line of scrimmage, and his attitude on my line any day. You need that S.O.B on your offensive line that will take exception if a defender roughs up one of your players. He'll be back at center in 2010. And who knows, after this most recent procedure on his ankle, maybe he'll gain some more leverage at the point of attack.
Roberto Garza - Signed through 2011 - Garza is a solid pro. He'll never be in a Pro Bowl, but he won't hurt your line either. He's a tick above average as far as guards in the NFL go. He can play center in a pinch, and I see no reason why he won't be back on the right side again next year.
Frank Omiyale - Signed through 2012 - Omiyale will go into 2010 as the starting left guard. And I'm OK with that. His physical play improved as the year wore on, and as soon as he stops thinking so much his mental mistakes will go down. The Bears will no doubt explore free agent options on the OL, and if a quality left guard becomes available, they may entertain letting Omiyale compete for the right tackle position.
Kevin Shaffer - Signed through 2011 - He didn't look very comfortable in his time at left tackle, and he struggled when he was named a starter at right tackle. But like the rest of the line, as the year wound down, his play got better. His price tag ($1 million) isn't out of line for a swing tackle if a better player is found to start at RT, but with the way he ended up I wouldn't be surprised if the Bears are fine with him going into camp as the starting RT.
Chris Williams - Signed through 2012 - His familiarity on the left side was evident as soon as he made the switch back to his natural position. Hindsight is always 20/20, but he really should have been there from the start. Imagine if Pace was never signed the line would have been able to work through their growing pains earlier in the season, and may have actually gelled around mid year. I expect Williams to continue improving, and barring injury, he'll be the LT for the next seven, eight years.
Orlando Pace - Signed through 2011 - He's due a total of nearly $10 million the next couple years, but his contract was such that cutting him wouldn't effect the cap much. (That is if there is a salary cap next year.) He's clearly not going to be a starter at this point in his career and there really is no point of holding on to a back up at that salary. He's gone.
Josh Beekman - Signed through 2010 -Beekman, arguably one of the most popular Bears in the threads, has improved since his rookie year, but not enough to beat out anyone on the roster. He's never received a chance you say...Well he did start the entire year at guard in 2008 and while not terrible, he didn't do enough to keep the Bears from signing his replacement. I like Beekman in his current role, backing up at guard and center, and it appears the Bears do as well.
Lance Louis - Signed through 2012 - Honestly I was surprised he made the final roster. The Bears must have seen enough potential to keep him around, so my guess is he'll be around in 2010 as well, but I wouldn't be surprised either way. Louis is an athletic 6'2" 300 pounder, that was just raw technique wise. Maybe he'll develop and be a surprise at camp. I saw some time at tackle in preseason, but I think his future is at guard.
James Marten - Signed an undisclosed contract - Former 3rd round draft pick of Dallas, Marten was activated from the practice squad in December and will be in camp battling for a roster spot. He's been around a few teams as a pro and he has the size that will always open up some doors (6'8" 310). Maybe another year working with the Bears strength and conditioning coaches and he'll do enough to be a serious threat at RT.
Johan Asiata - Signed a reserve/futures contract - Here another guy that will be given an opportunity in camp.
Donovan Raiola - Contract undisclosed -Raiola was signed to the practice squad in October and finished up the season there. He could be in camp fighting for a roster spot.
2010 OL OUTLOOK - I think the Bears are happy with the group they finished out the season with. I fully expect them to go into training camp with the same depth chart as it stands now. You can find good offensive lineman in the later rounds, so expect the Bears to draft at least one. Ideally they'd like to add a quality interior lineman to push the incumbents. Finding a replacement for Kreutz should be something addressed as he enters the final year of his contract. While the popular consensus is that Josh Beekman will be that guy, I think the Bears would like to add another C/G to the mix, but if a highly rated RT falls to them I can see them snatching him up. And as usual a couple undrafted free agents will come in for a look.
If they choose to go the free agent route (which has been hit or miss with Jerry Angelo so far) there should be some solid candidates out there. If the CBA is settled, look for guards Jahri Evans, Saints, and Logan Mankins, Patriots, to be unrestricted free agents. But both will come at a premium and/or end up tagged by their current team. After spending big on the line last season, I'd be surprised with a big splash in '10.