It’s come to this in Chicago — hearing someone employed by the Bears state the obvious about the team’s offensive line feels like a small victory for those who are desperate for a shred of evidence that there is someone involved with the club who's as concerned about its front five as the situation calls for.
Keep in mind, though, that we’re in mid-May.
If we look back on the 2012 season and the O-line deficiencies have kept the team out of the playoffs or winning in the playoffs, the comments made by Jay Cutler on Monday about his collection of blockers will go down as too little too late.
There was a time to seriously address the offensive line this year, but it has passed.
Through their words and their actions this offseason, head coach Lovie Smith and GM Phil Emery have conveyed a sense of comfort with the O-linemen they have assembled. The only veteran addition to the O-line in free agency was OG Chilo Rachal, who lost his starting spot with the 49ers early last season. Emery didn’t spend any of his six draft picks on O-linemen in April.
They are banking on improving from within, yet there’s a strong argument to be made that the Bears’ offensive line is the worst in the league.
Cutler didn’t go that far when he turned his focus to the O-line while answering reporters’ questions Monday during an appearance at a Chicago school, but he acknowledged reality, which is not something his bosses have done when discussing the subject in public.
“The offensive line is definitely going to be a concern,” Cutler told reporters, “and seeing where those guys are going to fit in and seeing what five we go with. If Gabe (Carimi) comes back, if J’Marcus (Webb) pans out. Where are we going to put Chris Williams? There are some question marks there.
“Until we really get that resolved and get our front five settled in, we’ve got some work to do on offense.”
There is good reason to be excited about the Bears’ offense in 2012, as Cutler also acknowledged. He has the go-up-and-get-it receivers he badly needed since joining the Bears three seasons ago, thanks to the acquisition of Brandon Marshall and the drafting of Alshon Jeffery. Cutler is happy to be reunited with his position coach — Jeremy Bates — from his Denver days and appears to be enjoying working with offensive coordinator Mike Tice, who replaced Mike Martz.
Cutler hasn’t forgotten the barrage of hits he’s taken from pass rushers over the past three seasons, though.
Since the start of the 2009 season — Cutler’s first after being traded from Denver to Chicago — no team has allowed more sacks than the Bears (140). Cutler has been on the receiving end of 110 of those sacks. He was sacked a league-high 52 times in ’10 and was sacked 23 times in 10 games last season before a broken thumb put him on the shelf.
Tice, who coached the Bears’ O-line the past two seasons, is expected to make adjustments to take some heat off the front five. Cutler won’t be making as many deep drops, so blockers won’t have to give him as much time to throw as they were often asked to under Martz.
Cutler was still in tell-it-like-it-is mode even when a reporter asked if the philosophical and schematic changes on offense would benefit the line.
“It helps some, but it’s not a cure-all by any means,” he said. “They’re still going to be asked to protect. There are going to be times it’s 3rd-and-8, 3rd-and-10, and we’re going to have to take seven-step drops and we’re going to have the longer route and they’re going to have to protect.”
The Bears can tinker with the personnel they have. They can try moving Williams back to tackle and give him another chance to be Cutler’s blind-side protector if Webb proves he’s not up to the task. Tice can do a better job than Martz did at masking their flaws up front, too.
Is anyone buying that it will be enough? Or will we be having similar conversations about the O-line heading into free agency and the draft in 2013?
Cutler doesn’t appear to be convinced that it won’t be a problem again, no matter what Lovie Smith and Phil Emery tell us, and his words of caution Monday were spot-on.
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