Durkin: Offensive Line Woes Continue To Haunt Bears
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By Dan Durkin
(CBS) Just three months ago, I offered some advice to newly hired Bears general manager Phil Emery here, and for the most part he took it.
I’m not so deluded to think that Emery read a single word of my piece, but it appears he and I saw the Bears needs through the same prism. Again, for the most part. The Bears have yet to add legitimate competition at offensive tackle – specifically left – this offseason, and given the importance of the position and the division they play in, I’m puzzled by their neglect.
Granted, I acknowledged that it would be impossible for Emery to address every need on the roster in one offseason, but given the glaring weakness on the offensive line, it should have been a high priority. I hoped the first time Emery opened the door to his new office that he would’ve had the same reaction a hotel housekeeper had after opening the door of a room after a Led Zeppelin stay in the ‘70s. My god, what is that thing at left tackle? But judging by their inactivity, the Bears seem to think they’re fine at the position. I wonder: Why?
For years, I railed on former (man, it feels wonderful to write that) general manager Jerry Angelo for sundry weighty reasons. None larger than Angelo’s greatest success – acquiring quarterback Jay Cutler – also being his biggest failure. Angelo went out and made the bold move to acquire a quarterback with elite talent, yet he did nothing – nada – to protect and maximize the return on that investment. The Bears lined up every week with a rag-tag group of offensive lineman who provided porous protection, and third-rate receivers.
One minute into free agency and in the second round of the draft, Emery addressed, and seemingly corrected the wide receiver problem. Yet, the protection issue still remains, as the bears have done nothing – nil – to enhance the protection for their franchise quarterback. Have the Bears not seen the 120 sacks Cutler has endured in his 43 starts?
In 2011, Cutler was sacked every 11 times he dropped back. On the other hand, Drew Brees was sacked once every 27 attempts, and Tom Brady was sacked once every 21 attempts. Cutler cannot be sacked twice as much as other elite NFL quarterbacks on elite teams if the Bears want to take the next step towards being a legitimate Super Bowl contender.
A popular retort has been that the Bears protection woes will be immediately improved because the Bears jettisoned offensive coordinator Mike Martz. I agree Martz didn’t always put the offensive line in the best position possible by calling plays they couldn’t block. But, how does firing Martz make J’Marcus Webb’s hip sink, or his feet shuffle quicker upon initial contact with a pass rusher? It doesn’t. Furthermore, Cutler was sacked at the same rate – once every 11 pass attempts – in 2009 under former coordinator Ron Turner, so this problem has existed since Cutler entered the building, independent of the coordinator. The hope is Tice and quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates will run more shorter drops, and get Cutler out on the move on boots and roll-outs.
The Bears have maintained they are comfortable with the line as presently constituted, and are quick to point to the return of former first-round picks Chris Williams and Gabe Carimi. It did appear that Williams started to settle in at left guard last year, looking very athletic while pulling on lead plays, but Carimi has only played five quarters in the NFL, so he is unproven. Am I the only person out there who is uncomfortable with Levi Horn being the only other offensive tackle on the Bears roster?
Another conspiracy theory has been to move Chris Williams back into the mix at left tackle, which is what the Bears envisioned him being when they made him the 14th overall selection in the 2008 draft. Lovie Smith’s comments that they have “a lot of options” with Williams gives some legitimacy to this theory. Williams has to be considered one of the Bears five best offensive linemen, which makes him a starter, but is he their back-up plan at left tackle? I remind everyone that Williams has already failed in that role in the NFL.
Why didn’t the Bears make a play for Demetress Bell in free agency? Who, in essence, signed a one-year deal worth $3.25M with the Eagles. Why did the Bears draft Brandon Hardin in the third round and Evan Rodriguez in the fourth round with – by most accounts – higher ranked offensive tackle prospects available? Why have the Bears put so much pressure on Mike Tice to do more with less talent? Questions like this are hard to answer now, but I have a feeling by November the Bears are going to regret some of the decisions they made in March and April.
Make no mistake about it, I am cautiously optimistic about the Bears in 2012. For the first time in over a decade, I feel like the general manager is (critically) looking at the same roster I am, and has in very short order put his stamp on the roster. You can add as many weapons as you want on the outside, but Cutler can’t complete passes while lying on his back.
Hey Phil, anytime you’re looking for some advice, I have plenty.
Dan Durkin joined The Score’s columnist community after finishing runner-up in the 2011 Pepsi Max Score Search. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois where he was a member of the men’s football team (despite his best efforts to join the women’s team). Dan is a longtime Scorehead, known as Dan in Wicker Park – even though he no longer resides in Wicker Park – who will be sharing NFL analysis and opinions. You can follow Dan on Twitter @djdurkin. To read more of Dan’s blogs click here.