By Jeff Joniak
With six new offensive linemen, including four starters the Bears have the potential to be significantly improved up front. Those four opening day starters a year ago are backups or on the street today. J’Marcus Webb is a swing tackle for the Vikings, Chris Spencer and Gabe Carimi are reserve guards in Tennessee and Tampa Bay, Lance Louis failed to make the Dolphins and is a free agent. Former first round pick Chris Williams is a backup guard in St. Louis. The consistent presence is 34-year old Roberto Garza, one of 10 starting centers who are 30-plus on week one.
Offensive line coach Aaron Kromer excels at finding out what players can do, and avoiding the trap of asking them what they cannot do physically or mentally. Rookies Kyle Long and Jordan Mills are inexperienced, but trusted to begin the process of solidifying a strong front five. Veteran left tackle Jerman Bushrod eases the transition to Kromer after learning from him in New Orleans, while left guard Matt Slauson brings toughness and an edge to the unit. They may not have a tougher test this season than Sunday against the Bengals.
I am pleased Devin Hester has turned it around. He is free of distractions, healthy, and inspired by the change in direction with the coaching staff. Marc Trestman’s decision to pull Hester from the offense could prove to be as significant as any he makes in his first year.
Hester, and the threat of Hester, effects field position and field position to a play caller like Trestman is gold. Hester flashed in the pre-season the speed and quick cuts we applaud, and if he resists the temptation to retreat to advance he again will be worth a first down or two on every return, not to mention the touchdown that eluded him in 2012. The next one, ties the return touchdown record of his old pal Deion Sanders.
Henry Melton hopes to follow up his 2012 Pro Bowl season with a banner encore in 2013. An $8-millon player with the athletic ability to rush the passer in the critical three-technique defensive tackle position in the Bears scheme has to be consistently disruptive and difficult to stop.
Cincinnati’s Geno Atkins is an ideal example of how an inside player, the shortest distance to the quarterback, can wreck a Sunday. A fourth round pick out of Georgia, Atkins is number one in sacks by a defensive tackle since 2011 with 20 in 32 games. He’s quick with leverage at only 6-1 303, but strong and challenging on twists and stunts. Melton is nearly 6-4 295. He timed faster, and put up better explosion numbers than Atkins coming out of college, but with less experience at the position. Atkins recorded at least a half a sack in 10 different games in 2012.
Melton has at least a half a sack in 14 games in his career. Atkins just agreed to a $55.0M extension, Melton is working to get his in 2014.
Fourth and short
Cincinnati owns the longest playoff drought without a win in the NFL. It stands at 22 years despite trips to the postseason the last two years under 11th year head coach Marvin Lewis. His teams have only made the playoffs four times in his decade of coaching, and he is winless in those four trips including last year’s wildcard loss on the road at Houston.
Jeff Joniak is the play-by-play voice of the Chicago Bears on WBBM Newsradio 780 & 105.9 FM. You can follow Jeff on Twitter @JeffJoniak.