By Sean Foreman
After the Bears drafted OLD/DE Shea McClellin with the 19th pick in the 2012 draft, the uproar from Bears fans around the world was deafening. People just couldn’t believe we would leave Cutler, our most important player, unprotected with David DeCastro still on the board. I mean the kid is a rare talent (according to draft experts everywhere), and by all accounts had no business being available at #19 to the Bears. But instead of assuaging the fears of fans everywhere, Phil Emery went on defensive side of the ball, setting off flamers across the internet.
Here’s why everyone needs to calm down: despite what you think, the Bears offensive line ISN’T THAT BAD. Okay, they were pretty bad for most of the year. After a Week 5 massacre at the hands of the Lions (which included maybe 100 false start penalties), it looked like the Bears were headed to a historically bad year protecting the franchise, and I was confident Jay Cutler would be murdered on the field. That was when something unthinkable happened: they improved.
This happened for a couple reasons. First, there was no real offseason time for the line to come together. Roberto Garza was moved from right guard to center; Chris Spencer was moving from center to right guard; Chris Williams was (technically) in his sophomore season; Lance Louis had never started before; and JaMarcus Webb was JaMarcus Webb. Playing o-line requires players to have trust and comfort in the players next them, and the shortened offseason didn’t leave a lot of time for that to develop. After five weeks of on-the-job training (roughly the same time they would have had if there were regular OTAs and training camp), that began to come together, and the bye in Week 8 didn’t hurt either.
Second, Lovie Smith put the hammer down on Mike Martz. In the Week 5 loss to the Lions, Jay Cutler threw 38 times to 23 runs (25 if you include two Cutler scrambles, which I don’t). In their Week 3 loss to the Packers, Cutler threw 37 times to 9 runs. When a defense knows you’re passing, they pin their ears back and attack the quarterback, which tends to make life difficult for the quarterback. So guess what happened in Week 6? Surprise! The Bears balanced their play calling. In Week 6, they threw 31 times and ran 28 on route to a 39-10 blowout of the Viqueens. Thus began the Bears 5-game winning streak before Cutler was injured.
During that streak, it was almost as though the offensive line had undergone a Six-Million Dollar Man-like transformation. After giving up 14 sacks the first 5 weeks (going 2-3 in that stretch), the line gave up only 5 sacks TOTAL during the next 5 (5-0), a stretch that included holding the potent Eagles pass rush to 0 sacks. 5 sacks and 15 QB hits over 5 games? That doesn’t sound like a good offensive line, it sounds like a sending-multiple-players-to-the- Pro-Bowl offensive line. The offense averaged 26.2 points/game (not a typo, that doesn’t include any of the Bears 5 special teams or defensive scores), and 347.6 yards/game, which would have ranked them 5th in NFL in points/game, and 15th in yards/game (which I find less important given the Bears dominance in field position), as opposed to the 17th and 24th rankings they ended with. Read that again.
Oh, and keep in mind that during that 5-game stretch, Chris Williams (LG) was injured and replaced by Edwin Williams, and Chris Spencer (RG) was injured and replaced by Frank Omiyale. Plus, 2011 1st round pick Gabe Carimi (henceforth called The Bear Jew) was out with an injury sustained in a Week 2 loss to the Saints. The only reason they regressed in the later part of the season was because Jay Cutler’s injury (not related to offensive line play) led to the emergence of the worst quarterback in the history of the NFL, Caleb Hanie, who was as good at avoiding sacks as he was at winning football games.
My point is that this year that whole group is coming back healthy, with a full offseason, and with balanced play calling (assuming Mike Tice commits like he says he will). And in case you forgot, soon-to-blow-up quarterback Jay Cutler will be making his triumphant return to the starting lineup, with new weapons Brandon Marshall and Michael Bush. Our projected starting offensive line this year (Webb, Williams, Garza, Spencer, Carimi) come into the offseason with a combined 24 years of professional experience, and almost half of those come from Garza (11 years). Do we really want to throw another rookie into the mix? My feeling is no. With the injury concerns of Williams and Carimi, a depth signing wouldn’t hurt, but you don’t spend a first round pick on depth.