Guard was probably the Chicago Bears most stable position heading into one of the most unstable offseasons in franchise history. Matt Slauson had proved his worth at left guard and looked to be returning from a season-ending injury in fine form. Right guard was locked down by one of the top 10 players on the team and fan favorite, Kyle Long. The last thing the Bears seemed to need was a guard.
Then a funny thing happened on the way to this season. Nobody on the team was able to win the right tackle job outright. Offensive lines, maybe more than any other position group on a football team, operate as a single unit. What happens in one place has an immediate ripple effect on all the others. In this case the coaches decided it was time to move Long (the best athlete on the line) to fill the right tackle spot. This left a gaping hole at right guard that has not yet been filled.
Veterans Vladimir Ducasse and Patrick Omameh were brought on board to battle for the job. Both have spent time manning the RG spot for the Bears this year and have had some success in certain situations. Ducasse won the job to start the season and posted some staggeringly bad grades according to Pro Football Focus. He bookended his tenure as the starter with his worst efforts. Week 1 saw him post a -5.8 and week 10 proved to be his undoing when he "bettered" that mark with a -6.1. That opened the door for Omameh to move into the starter's role.
Chicago Bears Sackwatch: Week 13 vs 49ers - Bears are on pace to allow their fewest sacks since 2006
Every week I'll break down the sacks allowed by the Chicago Bears in my Sackwatch series and I'll keep a running team and individual total. This week they only allowed 1 sack agaisnt the San Francisco 49ers, so I'll dissect the play right here.
Omameh is the younger of the two players but probably has the most potential. He staggered a bit posting negative grades in week 9 and 10 (-2.7 and -2.3) after seeing his first bits of extended action. However he has posted positive grades for the past 3 straight weeks including his best mark of the season against the 49'ers (+4.2). This is exactly the kind of trend you want to see from a young lineman when he gets a starting opportunity: consistent improvement every week.
While Omameh may be growing into a serviceable starter as we watch, Ducasse is what he is. If Slauson or Omameh were to get injured, Ducasse would be right back in the lineup. Beyond that, there are no other guards on the Chicago's roster; active or practice squad. Even if Omameh does lock down the starter's role moving forward the Bears could certainly use to add another quality player to their guard rotation.
Joshua Garnett, Guard, Stanford
Offensive guards come in all shapes and sizes but Josh Garnett comes in only one size: extra large. He is a mountain of a man standing 6'5" and topping 325 pounds and he's been that big for a while. He was 295 pounds when he played high school ball. Before he hit college he'd bench pressed 350 pounds and squatted 500 pounds. Despite his physical prowess Garnett is not just a hulk. The fact that he had a 3.87 GPA and got into Stanford proves there is more than a little Bruce Banner in him as well.
When I started researching Josh I found out that he played his high school football in Puyallup, WA; about 10 minutes from my doorstep. It also happens to be the same high school that both Damon and Brock Huard attended; as their dad was the head football coach there. When Garnett took his recruiting visit to Stanford he was hosted by none other than former Stanford lineman David DeCastro, who now plays guard for the Steelers. So even though Garnett has never played a snap in the NFL, he has a very good idea of what pro football player really looks like.
Once you put on some Stanford game film it quickly becomes apparent that Josh doesn't just know what a pro looks like, he is one. He may still be in school but his skills are worthy of playing on Sunday. Succeeding on the inside of the offensive line hinges on two main things: quickness and power. Garnett displays both in excess. His ability to move laterally at the snap is almost too good to be true for a man of his size. "Light on his feet" doesn't cover it; he is downright agile. This allows him to get into the gap he will cover more quickly than the defender can adjust. Then his power comes into play. Once Garnett is aligned and locked on to a player it is usually over for the opponent. Not once did I see Josh get beat on a power move. He is massively strong and understands leverage well enough that opponents rarely have a real chance to escape.
One of the best things about Garnett is his intelligence. You almost never see him wandering around looking for someone to hit. He understands Stanford's offense well enough that he is incredibly decisive. He simply decides who the biggest threat in his assigned lane is and seeks that player out. Once the first target is taken care of, he often moves on to another and has some impact there as well. Seeing him erase guys on the second level is commonplace and third level blocks (in the defensive secondary) are not unheard of.
His skills in the running game are enough to make him an early round draft choice, but he is very proficient against pass rushers as well. He anchors well against a bull rush and once he stops a defender's forward progress their rush is all but over. Playing inside on the offensive line, guards usually face many more power rushes than speed moves. However Garnett does display one weakness that will need to be improved once he hits the pro level. He is susceptible to outside speed rushes. The only pressures I saw him surrender came from rushes where the defender was able to avoid the initial punch and use upfield speed on Josh's outside shoulder. For all of his lateral quickness, Garnett is poor at recovering in this situation and usually ends up reaching and overextending. It does not happen very often but once opposing defensive coordinators see it on tape they will scheme rushes to exploit that weakness until Josh can find a way to counter it.
The Bears have a glaring need for a guard and Josh Garnett checks all of the boxes a team could hope for in an interior offensive lineman:
- Great strength
- Excellent intelligence and understanding of his role in the scheme
- Solid hand use
- Top flight lateral agility
- Good speed on traps and pulls
- Finishes his blocks and plays with attitude until the whistle
If he's available when the Bears are on the clock they'll have to consider him. All of their other offensive skill players will thank them if they do.
Making Their Mark (2015 draftees who are thriving in the pro game)
Craig Mager (CB, Chargers) - Mager played college ball at Texas State. His technique was raw but he had great physical skills and played with an edge. San Diego took him in the 5th round and has been richly rewarded for their trouble. He is one of the best young slot corners to come out of the last draft and has outplayed many of his peers who cost their clubs a higher draft choice.
Dorial Green-Beckham (WR, Titans) - Green-Beckham certainly had off the field issues in college. Ignoring that fact was unavoidable, but so was seeing his immense talent on the field once you started watching the tape. I wrote in my notes last year "generational talent if he can just keep his head together". It is not hyperbole to think that DGB can be as good as some NFL receiving legends if he can simply walk the right path when he is outside the sidelines. On Sunday he finally broke out, snagging 5 catches for 119 yards and a TD. He also dropped a nasty downfield block to help spring Marcus Mariota's 87 yard TD run.
Failure to Launch (slow starters on the NFL stage)
Tevin Coleman (RB, Falcons) - Coleman has some serious talent, and as a home-run threat out of the backfield his only rival in last years crop of running backs was Todd Gurley. However, Coleman also has a serious case of the dropsies. He's coughed up 3 fumbles in his first 77 carries as a pro. That trend has got stop, or his chances to touch the ball will simply dry up.
Reel-to-Real (tips for watching game film on your favorite players)
Volume Discount: Watching game film is just like many things in life, the more you do it the better you get. The more familiar you get with players, schemes and skills the more quickly you will be able to move through tape and get something meaningful out of it. There aren't any shortcuts I know of to get better at it without putting sometime in... which is also just like the rest of real life.