By Nick Shepkowski-

(CBS) Entering the 2012 season the Chicago Bears rank among the favorites to make their way to New Orleans and play for the Super Bowl.

With the addition of Brandon Marshall, why not?  They have as flashy an offense as almost anyone can remember in what has become a passing league.  You need to look no further than the spring of 2009 and the addition of Jay Cutler to see that the Bears took the obvious step in adding a franchise quarterback, something you seemingly can’t win a Super Bowl without anymore.  But there is still a gaping hole that remains and it’s in front and to the left of where Jay Cutler lines up each play.

Fred Miller.  Frank Omiyale.  Chris Williams.  J’Marcus Webb.

All have been tested at left tackle since the retirement of John Tait and have shown at best minimal results.  Now, unless there is an unforeseen performance from Webb, Williams or a scrapheap left tackle that doesn’t appear to actually exist, chances seem slim that the Bears’ 26-year championship drought will end this fall.

How important is not just a respectable but a solid left tackle in the NFL?  Consider the following…

Over the last 22 years there have been 17 different starting left tackles to win Super Bowl.  It’s a list that includes Hall of Famer Gary Zimmerman (1 Super Bowl) and future Hall of Famers like Orlando Pace (1 Super Bowl) and Jonathan Ogden (1 Super Bowl).  Beyond that the list is still stocked full of former All-Pro’s and Pro Bowlers and includes the likes of Jim Lachey (1 Super Bowl, 3-times All-Pro), Matt Light (3 Super Bowls and 3-time Pro-Bowler) and Mark Tuinei (3 Super Bowls, 2-time All Pro).

Furthermore, just three times in the last 22 seasons has a starting left tackle on a Super Bowl winning team not been someone who at least played in a Pro Bowl just one time during their careers.  Even at that, a respectable left tackle made the start for the Super Bowl champs in each of those seasons as Bruce Wilkerson – ’96 Packers (147 games in 11 seasons), Roman Oben – ’02 Bucs (130 starts in 12 seasons) and Max Starks – ’08 Steelers (79 starts in 7 seasons).

Is J’Marcus Webb on his way to a career where he would start even 79 games like Starks, the least accomplished of the last 22 Super Bowl winners has?  After watching how Jared Allen treated him a year ago and how he performed against Denver in week one of the preseason it’s difficult to imagine so.  If Chris Williams ends up winning the ongoing position battle, it’s still hard to imagine his disappointing career takes a magical turn to greatness.

Adding Jay Cutler a few seasons back was a huge step for the Angelo regime and was something nobody saw coming.  Nearly as unpredictable, Phil Emery started off his reign as Bears GM with the Brandon Marshall trade that caught Chicago by surprise.  Even with these moves that have bolstered the Bears offense, there is still a gaping hole on the offensive line, specifically left tackle.

The Bears have surrounded Cutler with talent in Marshall, Matt Forte and Alshon Jeffery but have still failed to find someone who can protect his blind side.  Regardless of an offensive regime change from Mike Martz to Mike Tice and no matter how much they tell you they’re bound for greatness, it’s nearly impossible to imagine the Bears overcoming this hindrance.

Nick Shepkowski is the associate producer of The McNeil and Spiegel Show, heard Monday-Friday from 9am-1pm on 670 The Score and For more information throughout the Bears season, follow him on Twitter @Shep670.

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