Jerry Angelo told us it was the number one question mark heading into last season: the offensive line. If Jerry is doing his job at any decent level, he'll need to make sure that's not the case for a second year in a row.
It's likely that the Bears will initially be looking to free agency with an eye for interior offensive linemen, and to the draft with an eye for offensive tackles. But we all know it's not that easy.
Truth be told, all of the positions on the Bears offensive line could use an upgrade. And since drafting the entire Wisconsin offensive line - as some fans have suggested - is not really an option, they'll have to prioritize.
Those priorities in my mind are: 1. Left tackle, 2. Center, 3. Left guard, 4. Right guard, and 5. Right tackle.
How the Bears get there could be tricky. Angelo, no doubt has his work cut out for him. But nonetheless, I think there is a decent scenario for each position.
Not all those scenarios will come to fruition, but we need to look somewhere. Here are a few places the Bears will be looking this off-season:
Left Tackle: Frank Omiyale was at the distinct disadvantage of having to play three offensive line positions in 2010: left guard, right tackle and left tackle. And while Frank improved as the season progressed, his newest nickname, "False-Start Frank," grew in popularity. Omiyale, sadly, is a clear upgrade over the guy the Bears originally drafted to play left tackle in the first place, Chris Williams. But in Mike Martz's system, the Bears know their number one goal is finding adequate protection for Jay Cutler's left side, and they'll look to the first round of the draft to find a suitable replacement.
Top draft prospects: Derek Sherrod (Mississippi State); Gabe Carimi (Wisconsin). Sherrod is an absolute and complete tackle. It's unclear whether or not he'll fall all the way to 29th, but if he does, the Bears should make the move. More likely might be Gabe Carimi. An excellent in-line blocker, Carimi would be a steal at 29, but by the looks of it, he may be poised to still be around when the Bears get their first pick.
Center: By all accounts, Olin Kreutz will be the Bears center in 2011. At 33, Kreutz's best day are well behind him, and he's not looking to leave Chicago anytime soon. "I'd like to be a Bear forever," Kreutz said in 2010. It would probably take a multi-year deal to entice the free agent to leave; something he's not likely to get. But the Bears know they need to start looking to find a replacement for Kreutz, and I'm not sold on Roberto Garza as their future. Watch for them to target a free agent center who can fill in at guard in 2011.
Top free agent prospect: Ryan Kalil (Carolina). Here's where the Bears own personal farm system kicks in. The Carolina Panthers did all the hard work for you! They drafted Kalil, turned him into a two time Pro Bowl selection, and subsequently ruined their organization so that the free agent guard/center will be looking to move on in 2011. Don't screw this one up, Angelo.
Left guard: Chris Williams, the 14th overall draft pick in 2008, has not worked out for the Bears, and that's probably putting it lightly. Williams was drafted to be a tackle, but he hasn't shown anything which should lead anyone to believe that he's capable of playing that position in the National Football League. He's been sidelined by injury to the point that he's missed an average of four games each season since 2008. This year, the Bears' new offensive line coach Mike Tice decided to face reality and pull Williams from tackle, moving him to guard. One problem is that Williams is grossly undersized to play guard. He improved as the year went on, but he's not at any level to provide adequate run blocking for the Bears moving forward.
Top free agent prospect: Carl Nicks (New Orleans). Nicks is an interesting prospect. One of the top guards in the league, one would think the Saints wouldn't be interested in letting him go. But they may not be able to afford to keep him in New Orleans. Saints' Jahari Evans is currently the league's highest paid guard, and Jermon Bushrod is their top left tackle (he's also a free agent). The Saints have some important decisions to make and some team is going to wind up with a great offensive lineman thanks to it...
Right guard: Roberto Garza was probably the most consistent player on the Bears line in 2010. He drew a ton of praise from Mike Tice and Lovie Smith, and he played a key role in facilitating communication down the line; something that was sorely lacking early on. Sorry to break it to you, but the Bears cannot replace the entire unit with Pro Bowl players in one season, so it's probably safe to say their top o-lineman Roberto Garza will factor into the 2011 plan in some way, shape or form. Where he ultimately ends up is up - left or right side - is up for debate.
Top prospect: None.
Right tackle: J'Marcus Webb showed some vague promise at right tackle last season. While he's no Pro Bowler, he's not on top of the replacement list today. But having said that, the main priority is still protecting Jay Cutler. And you can't do that without decent tackles. So don't think the Bears are set on Webb as the future on the right side. They will need depth, and Webb could make a very nice bench-piece (sarcasm, but not really). Truth be told, Webb is a big strong guy who has upside. But it's up to him to take it to the next level this season.
Top free agent prospect: Ryan Harris (Denver). Here's the one thing you need to know about Ryan Harris: We know for a fact that he can keep Jay Cutler vertical. After all, he did it in 2008, only allowing 1.5 sacks on Cutler when the two played together in Denver. The Broncos have indicated that they are ready to move on from Harris. He will likely be expensive to keep, and their LT Ryan Clady's contract is coming up soon. This is one the Bears will watch; count on it.
Keep in mind, I'm not suggesting to you that the Bears will in anyway be in a position to make all the moves I suggested. I'd be happy with two huge upgrades, and open competition at the remaining positions. But this at least gives you an idea of who may be on the top of their lists today.
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