By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) A football season is anything but predictable.
Many experts can look at rosters, depth charts and schedules and make pronouncements on which teams are going to the Super Bowl and which teams are headed for losing seasons after a couple of weeks of training camp.
Those pronouncements often have little to do with reality as a season plays out.
With that proviso in mind, the Chicago Bears are one of the teams that many NFL observers are feeling good about with the season about five weeks away from starting.
The defense looks strong with Julius Peppers, Brian Urlacher and Charles Tillman manning key roles. The offense has the potential to be both explosive and balanced.
Matt Forte may not be thrilled, but he has a new contract and he is in camp. Jay Cutler is healthy and happy. Brandon Marshall is a big-play threat on the outside, rookie Alshon Jeffrey looks like a threat and Earl Bennett is dependable.
Mike Martz is gone and Mike Tice may find a way to get the Bears tight ends some action.
So all is good with the Bears, right?
Not so fast. The Bears may look like they have potential to be a team that goes deep into the playoffs, but that’s only if you ignore the state of the offensive line.
This unit is unproven, and to paint it any other way would be misleading.
The house may look beautiful from the street, but the foundation is shaky.
According to Pro Football Weekly’s season preview magazine, no team has given up more sacks than the Bears since the start of the 2009 season. When you allow the quarterback to be thrown down behind the line of scrimmage 140 times in a three-year span, it does not make you feel good about the team’s prospects for the upcoming season.
A further look at the individual talent on the offensive line adds to the consternation. The Bears don’t have any offensive linemen who rank in the top 15 at any of the five positions on the offensive line. Perhaps center Roberto Garza is closest to that level, but that can’t be reassuring to Cutler, who is often on the run and trying to protect himself from getting swallowed up by voracious pass rushers.
Lance Louis is a hustler and hard worker at right guard and he should continue to improve. But you can’t feel very good about any of the other offensive linemen.
Right tackle is a particular problem. This should be an area that Gabe Carimi dominates for the Bears. He may not even be a starter unless he upgrades his play over what he has shown to this point in the summer. Carimi had knee issues as a rookie and is still an unknown quantity.
J’Marcus Webb is the Bears’ left tackle. He had been alternating with Chris Williams, but the coaching staff had Williams play in Carimi’s spot at right tackle. If all things go according to plan, Williams will start at left guard and Carimi will be back at right tackle.
Tice and Lovie Smith don’t really care about what happens on the scoreboard during the Bears upcoming preseason games. However, they do care about the progress of the offensive line.
They know that all their hopes and dreams for the talented players at the skill positions could come unhinged unless the offensive line starts producing.
They are looking for consistency, minimization of mistakes and skill.
If it’s hit-and-miss and the quarterbacks don’t have a chance to make plays, the Bears will not join the Giants, Packers, Falcons and 49ers as legitimate contenders.
Much work needs to be done and much improvement is needed.
1. Joe Thomas, Cleveland Browns
2. Ryan Clady, Denver Broncos
3. D’Brickashaw Ferguson, New York Jets
4. Jake Long, Miami Dolphins
5. Jordan Gross, Carolina Panthers
1. Jahri Evans, New Orleans Saints
2. Logan Mankins, New England Patriots
3. Davin Joseph, Tampa Bay Buccaneeers
4. Marshall Yanda, Baltimore Ravens
5. Chris Snee, New York Giants
1. Nick Mangold, New York Jets
2. Maurkice Pouncey, Pittsburgh Steelers
3. Ryan Kalil, Carolina Panthers
4. Nick Hardwick, San Diego Chargers
5. Eric Wood, Buffalo Bills
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.