Last off season Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery brought in a new left guard and left tackle via free agency. Both started from day one. He also drafted a right tackle and a right guard, and both those guys won their jobs during the preseason and started all 16 games.
The Bears replaced 4/5 of their o-line and they played some very solid football. Sackwatch showed us that the sacks allowed dropped from 45 to 30 from 2012 to 2013, but some of that was aided by the play calling and new scheme. Marc Trestman helped give the Bears one of the most prolific offenses in the NFL, but to get a bigger picture on the o-line's improvement we'll look at a few other team stats.
Yards per pass attempt went from 5.7 2012 to 7.0 in 2013. More time for the QB leads to more time for the receivers to run their routes.
Yards per rush saw a slight uptick from 4.2 to 4.5 per carry. While not a big difference, their new zone blocking scheme takes time to master and to get all five offensive linemen working in unison. I'd expect their increased familiarity with the ZBS will lead to another jump in yards per rush in 2014.
In 2012 30.3% of their offensive drives ended up with an offensive score; in 2013 that number jumped to 39%. Good offensive lines help with sustaining drives, and more sustained drives lead to more points.
But the biggest number to show how the o-line improved was in the penalties. In 2012 Chicago's offensive line was flagged 38 times, in 2013 only 16.
This group was working hard all off season to be ready for 2014 and I expect them to build off their success from last year.
Starting from left to right; Jermon Bushrod, Matt Slauson, Roberto Garza, Kyle Long and Jordan Mills will all be back. Mills was the worst starter of the five, but I believe he's coming back hungry to improve. For more of my thoughts on Mills you can check out my 10th Most Important Bears article.
Eben Britton can play tackle, guard and, as evidenced last year, tight end. He's the type of player that could push for a starting job, so the Bears are happy they were able to re-sign him.
Newly signed center Brian de la Puente was a damn good depth signing. He started his career as an undrafted free agent of the San Francisco 49ers in 2008. Then he went to K.C., Seattle, Carolina, back to San Fran, back to Seattle, before ending up in New Orleans in 2010. He spent 2010 on their practice squad before breaking through with 12 starts at center in 2011. He went on to start all 16 games the next two years for New Orleans. His experience working with current Bears offensive coordinator and former Saints o-line coach Aaron Kromer, no doubt led to him signing with Chicago.
He'll start out training camp backing up on the interior and that's OK. Some Bears fans are vocal in their displeasure with veteran Roberto Garza, but the two players are very similar. Garza had a solid 2013 season, as did de la Puente, yet all anyone chooses to remember about Garza is the goal line play where Nick Fairley beat Garza through the gap. Neither player is an All Pro, but both are good professional offensive linemen. Garza is in his mid 30's and at some point his play will noticeably decline or he'll decide to hang 'em up. As for de la Puente, the Bears have him on a one year deal to see how he acclimates to their locker room. Both players will be free agents after this season and 2015 could see their roles reversed.
If de la Puente outplays Garza in camp the Bears won't hesitate to make the change, but the same can be said for a few positions on the team. Best man wins.
A good bet to make it
I think the Bears like Taylor Boggs as a reserve on the interior. He can fill in at center and guard, and he's really shown a willingness to work on his craft. Another versatile veteran is James Brown. He's played guard and tackle and that could give him the leg up on some of the other players.
The big reason I'm putting Boggs and Brown in this category is their experience. I would not be too surprised if one of the bubble players beat them out for a spot.
On the bubble
If the Bears go with a 10th offensive lineman rookie 7th rounder Charles Leno Jr. could have the edge. Having a young swing tackle in the pipeline for the coaches to work with is a good thing. For more on Leno, check out our Five Questions series with one of of the SB Nation Boise State writers.
The other tackles vying for a job are Joe Long, who will be in the swing tackle mix, and is the younger brother of St. Louis' Jake Long. So bloodlines, family ties and all that must mean that he's a baller. Undrafted free agent Cody Booth was Temple's long snapper in 2009 and was a tight end his first three years in college. He started 11 games at LT for the Owls last year.
Former CFL'er Michael Ola played for Marc Trestman in Montreal, and during the OTAs he was getting reps at guard and tackle.
The Bears signed a couple of undrafted free agent linemen after the draft and they are both listed at guard. We gave both Wisconsin's Ryan Groy and TCU's James Dunbar the Five Questions treatment too, and you can click here and here respectively for those articles. Groy started at every position on the line at Wisconsin plus he has long snapped. Dunbar has played tackle as well.
What are your thoughts on the o-line depth chart?
LM: #Bears have signed G/C Dylan Gandy to 1-year contract & waived DE Jamil Merrell.— Chicago Bears (@ChicagoBears) July 25, 2014
James Dunbar was also released.