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By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) The Bears’ offense figures to be the most productive it has been in years, and perhaps it will be the most explosive it has ever been.
That’s no given, because there’s a little bit of an issue on the offensive line. Generally speaking, the Bears are going to have a hard time keeping Jay Cutler upright. Specifically, Gabe Carimi at right tackle and J’Marcus Webb at left tackle just aren’t good enough.
That’s meant to temper enthusiasm. The Bears’ offensive line doesn’t rank in the league’s top 10. The following teams do:
1. New England Patriots – The unsung hero of this group is offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, who has been with the Pats for 28 years. Left guard Logan Mankins grades out extremely well and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer is tough, mean and aggressive. More than the individual parts, this unit keeps Tom Brady upright and that’s why the Pats are so dangerous on offense.
2. Green Bay Packers – It’s no surprise that the two best offensive teams in the league have the two best offensive lines. When it comes to interior blocking, the Packers may even have the edge on the Pats because right guard Josh Sitton is a mauler, left guard T.J. Lang is a drive-blocking master and center Jeff Saturday is still solid and should adjust to Aaron Rodgers after years of working with Peyton Manning’s fast-paced offense in Indianapolis.
3. Houston Texans – This group was good last year and it should be better this year. Duane Brown protects Matt Schaub’s back side from the left tackle position and he is solid. Center Chris Meyers is tough, smart and quick. The rest of the line is dependable and athletic.
4. New Orleans Saints – Another unit that figured to rank near the top because of the prolific numbers the Saints put on the scoreboard every week. The Saints gave up just 24 sacks last year, the best figure in the NFC and they did a solid job of run blocking. Left tackle Jermon Bushrod gave up just three sacks last year. Center Brian de la Puente showed quickness and aggressiveness after former Bear Olin Kreutz quit last season.
5. Cincinnati Bengals – For all the “magic” Andy Dalton had as a rookie quarterback last year it wasn’t all because of his strong arm and quick release. The Bengals protected him well, thanks in large part to the play of their excellent tackles. Andre Smith used to be the butt of a lot of fat jokes, but he is a stellar blocker at right tackle. Left tackle Andrew Whitworth is not a household name, but he excels at protecting Dalton’s back side.
6. Baltimore Ravens – John Harbaugh feels good about his offensive line because he knows he has a solid group of veterans that includes left tackle Bryant McKinnie, right tackle Michael Oher and right guard Marshall Yanda. However, the depth is primarily untested young players.
7. Carolina Panthers – The speed and athleticism of Cam Newton at quarterback makes life easier for the Panthers’ offensive line, but Ryan Kalil is a solid and dependable center who makes life much easier for Newton. Jordan Gross is dependable at left tackle and has the feet for the position. If Jeff Otah can stay healthy, the Panthers may move higher in the rankings.
8. Kansas City Chiefs – The Chiefs added big right tackle Eric Winston from the Houston Texans and he takes a position that was a weak spot and converts it into a strength. Right guard Jon Asamoah had a solid season as a first-time starter. Left guard Ryan Lilja is an excellent run blocker and an improving pass blocker.
9. Cleveland Browns – The Browns are weak at the skill position. They are going with aging rookie Brandon Weeden, 28, at quarterback and they feel confident that left tackle Joe Thomas will protect him. Thomas is the best left tackle in the business and center Alex Mack is exceptional.
10. N.Y. Jets – The quarterback situation is going to cause problems all year unless Mark Sanchez can suddenly assert himself. His inconsistency is not the offensive line’s fault. Left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson ranks right behind Thomas while center Nick Mangold is a monster in the middle of the line who is a brilliant athlete for a man of his size (6-4, 312 pounds).
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.