Last season, the Chicago Bears had one of the more mediocre offensive lines in the NFL.
Poor play and multiple injuries to personnel (each starter missed at least one game) to create a unit that served as the roots of an offense that finished just outside the bottom-five in rushing yards and was middle-of-the-pack in passing.
With this knowledge known, Bears general manager Ryan Pace made a few personnel adjustments during the offseason. The key moves were the releasing of long-time Bears center Roberto Garza, the replacement of Garza with 32-year-old Will Montgomery – a center under John Fox during his time in Denver- and the selection on University of Oregon center Hroniss Grasu in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft.
Another offensive line addition came in the sixth round when Chicago ended its draft with the selection of TCU tackle Tayo Fabuluje.
As aforementioned, the center position received the most attention. Pace found himself subtracting one seasoned veteran for another, as well as adding the center of the future in Grasu.
The Oregon product seems to be ready to play now, and is the top candidate to step into the starting role with an injury at the position. For the time being, the best course of action would be for Grasu to develop under Montgomery until his time in Chicago is up. He was signed to only a one-year deal, so Grasu’s commencement as full-time start is bound to come sooner than later.
Dec 1, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Chicago Bears guardMatt Slauson
(68) against the Minnesota Vikings at Mall of America Field at H.H.H. Metrodome. The Vikings defeated the Bears 23-20 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
In April, following the decision to release Garza, Brad Briggs of the Chicago Tribune that the Bears discussed asking second-year lineman Charles Leno to focus more on center, but the introduction of Grasu to the roster will more than likely change the team’s position on the matter.
The left side of the line is projected to feature Jermon Bushrod at tackle and Matt Slauson on the inside as guard.
Bushrod, the team’s highest paid lineman and third-highest paid player, will get the help he needed for most of last season. Slauson is slated to return after going down with a pectoral tear in the team’s mid-season bout against the New England Patriots.
He was one of team’s most reliable players in the unit in 2013, and the Bears went on to win only two games after his season ended (to mediocre Tampa Bay and Minnesota teams), so his presence in the trenches should create some production line play on the left side.
The right side is slated to see Pro Bowl guard Kyle Long on the inside, but there seems to be some concern at the right tackle position. Jordan Mills, the 2013 starter on the outside, was a constant liability for the line. There were times where former offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer had to assign an extra blocker to help out on the side. That type of constant aid is unacceptable at this level.
Dec 15, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bears guard Kyle Long (75) on the bench during the second quarter against the New Orleans Saints at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
Michael Ola, the versatile lineman entering his second year in the NFL, could be in the conversation to take over at right tackle. He experienced trouble getting used to the talent of the NFL in his first year away from the Canadian Football League, but if he comes into training camp with a decent amount of imporvement under his belt, he could get the starting nod.
Barring any major injuries to the starting five, an offensive line consisting of Bushrod, Slauson, Montgomery, Long and Ola can become a productive unit. The meal ticket for the line is chemistry, and the only way to get chemistry is to play together as much as possible–meaning little to no injuries.
Chemistry equals solid play from each lineman, doing their parts to provide pass and run protection. Avoiding injuries–something that the Bears were unable to do in 2013–will make gaining that chemistry a whole lot easier.
The addition of Vlad Ducasse, Grassu and Fabuluje provides more depth in case injuries occur, but it’s best to hope that it does not come to having a raw seventh round pick starting at right tackle.
The key to the success of the offensive line this season is to simply avoid injuries, and to gain a unit-wide chemistry while doing so. None of the starters are good to the point where they can pick up the slack for another lineman, but if each player assumes a role and plays it, Jay Cutler will likely be a happier and much-less banged-up man.
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