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This is the fifth in a series of position-by-position looks at the Bears' personnel entering the 2011 offseason. The series continues with an analysis of Chicago's OL situation.
Overview: Giving QB Jay Cutler better protection should be one of the Bears' top priorities this offseason after he took a beating in 2010. Chicago allowed a league-high 56 sacks last season and Cutler endured 52 of them, suffered a concussion in Week Four when he was sacked nine times in the first half by Giants defenders. He also tore his MCL in the NFC championship game. Cutler was under pressure from pass rushers far too often, and that's part of the reason why the Bears' offense ranked 30th in the league.
The Bears have a first-round draft pick for the first time since 2008 — when GM Jerry Angelo selected Chris Williams, who was expected to be the left tackle of the future at that time. Williams moved inside to left guard and made 11 starts at the OLG position last season, but it's not clear whether he'll stay there or move back to tackle heading into 2011. In addition to making a decision about Williams and whether to address the O-line with the 29th overall pick, Angelo likely will try to get a short-term deal done with C Olin Kreutz. The 14-year veteran is due to become an unrestricted free agent and would be very difficult to replace.
Here's a breakdown of each of the offensive linemen on the roster:
Roberto Garza: He moved from right guard to the OLG spot in training camp, but returned to his old position after missing a couple games last season while recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus. He has been a fixture on Chicago's offensive line since 2005 and is still a dependable performer. It's likely that Garza will be back, but he might have to compete to keep his starting job.
Herman Johnson: The Bears signed Johnson off the Cardinals' practice squad in early December. A fifth-round pick in 2009, Johnson is massive — he's 6-7 and 360 pounds, but he has yet to play in a regular-season game. He's a developmental prospect who caught offensive line coach Mike Tice's eye at the Senior Bowl when Johnson was entering the draft. The Bears list him as a guard.
Olin Kreutz: With no clear replacement ready to take over him, the Bears are expected to make re-signing Kreutz a priority. Kreutz, who will turn 34 in June, probably will be offered a one- or two-year deal, and indications are he'd like to stay in Chicago. He's not at the top of his game anymore, but his tank isn't empty and he's a respected leader in the huddle. When asked about Kreutz at the NFL Scouting Combine on Friday, head coach Lovie Smith said, "Olin knows that he's wanted."
Lance Louis: Garza moved to left guard in training camp to clear a space for Louis to start at right guard, but it's not clear where Louis fits after he failed to hold on to his spot with the first-team offense. He started the first four games at right guard, but suffered a knee injury in Week Four and didn't make another start.
Frank Omiyale: He's not an elite player, but Omiyale did a solid job while filling a glaring void at left tackle for the Bears after Chris Williams went down with an injury early in 2010. Omiyale began the season at right tackle, and it's clear that he's more comfortable playing outside after lining up at guard for the Bears in '09. Omiyale has long arms — they've been measured at 37 inches — which helps him in pass protection.
Kevin Shaffer: Shaffer started two games at tackle early last season after Chris Williams suffered a hamstring injury, but was quickly replaced by rookie J'Marcus Webb. Some expect Shaffer, who has one year left on his deal, to be released this offseason.
J'Marcus Webb: The seventh-round project pick was put on the fast track by Tice, and after being promoted in Week Five he started the rest of the season at right tackle. Webb had his share of rough patches and still has learning to do. He has tremendous size at 6-8 and 335 pounds and the Bears are hoping that he continues to develop.
Chris Williams: He was expected to be a long-term staple at left tackle, but Williams has played three different spots on the O-line since the Bears drafted him 14th overall in 2008. Williams opened last season at left tackle but moved to left guard. Smith said at the Combine that the Bears are considering a few options for where to play Williams. He lacks the ideal power to play inside, but the OLG position might be the best fit for him.
Edwin Williams: He brings versatility as a center-guard swing player. Williams started three games at guard last season, but didn't play after Week Seven. An undrafted rookie in '09, Williams probably will return as a backup.
Bottom line: While no team likes feeling forced into taking a certain position with a draft pick, the Bears probably are not going to find a solution to their issues on the O-line in free agency or via trade. Angelo will be looking to land offensive linemen early in the draft and Cutler is going to have a hard time producing to his potential without better protection.