Other than a handsome NFL paycheck, there's really nothing redeeming about playing on the offensive line. There's virtually no fame or notoriety, and your toils are often rewarded to somebody else in the form of yards and touchdowns.
However, in cities like Chicago where football is undoubtedly king, there's still an expectation thrust on to these mammoth men. They may not be wringing in endorsement deals and routinely making headlines, but people appreciate — or in the case of the Chicago Bears, criticize — the offensive line because of its sheer importance strategically in the game of football.
For the last several years — essentially the entirety of the Jay Cutler era in Chicago — the Bears’ offensive line has been the scapegoat. They've been the one thing that's held an offense back that has occasionally seemed to border on great, though more often teetering towards not-so-great, from making the leap into the upper-echelon of the NFC.
With Cutler, Brandon Marshall and Matt Forte, the Bears are capable at the skill positions. However, an inability to keep Jay vertical and a disappointing lack of explosiveness at the point of attack left the Bears meddling with mediocrity in 2012.
This offseason, second-year general manager Phil Emery and first-year head coach Marc Trestman finally went out to address the issue in the trenches.
They drafted a physical freak — albeit inexperienced — who is slated to plug right in at guard in Kyle Long, son of NFL Hall of Famer, Howie Long. They signed Jermon Bushrod, a Pro Bowl left tackle, who, should he return to 2011 form, is one of the 10 best in the league. They also picked up the unheralded Matt Slauson to play the other guard while adding Eben Britton for depth on the interior.
All told, the Chicago Bears are set to field three new starters along the offensive line when they head to Bourbonnais for the start of training camp on July 25. A fourth, J'Marcus Webb will be manning a new position, making the move from left tackle to right — a position he seems much better suited for — to make room for Bushrod.
With so much change happening within one unit and with said unit playing such a critical role in the ultimate success of the Chicago Bears, there's no doubt that the offensive line will be a focal point during camp. Every drill and practice repetition will be closely monitored by legions of weary watchers armed with notebooks and tape recorders to document their every move.
For a short period of time, the often unnoticed offensive lineman will be the talk of the town. While the attention may be welcomed, the scrutiny is also sure to follow.
Perhaps it's a cliché to insist that these guys are entirely unknown, especially when you consider the time period in which we live. Information is readily available, and for the football-crazed masses who are more than aware of an offensive line's importance, lineman are certainly held accountable and praised accordingly.
However, not exceedingly.
When we watch the game, we very rarely pay specific attention to the offensive line, despite the fact that it is a much better way to glean something of consequence from the action than ball-watching. Meanwhile, jersey sales remain startlingly low for offensive lineman, with fans choosing to spend their hard-earned money on threads sporting more glamorous names than Bushrod.
At Chicago Bears Training Camp, even though we'll be watching their play closely, a 13-year NFL vet like Roberto Garza, who has spent nine years with the Bears, is less likely to hear his name shouted wildly by the autograph-seeking masses than a guy like Devin Hester, whose accomplishments on the field are relegated to a few spectacular years as a mere return-specialist.
With the addition of Martellus Bennett and a healthy Alshon Jeffery now back in the fold, the Chicago Bears’ offense is full of explosive playmakers. However, the new look offensive line will ultimately dictate their success.
So now, with training camp looming on the horizon, a microscope has been cast upon men you can already see from space. It's the offensive line's time to shine.
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Filed under: Training Camp