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Offensive-line uncertainty a buzzkill for Bears

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Dan Parr
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Posted May 24, 2012 @ 2:41 p.m. ET
By Dan Parr

A gorgeous spring day was the setting for the Bears’ offseason team activities Wednesday — the second of three helmeted, no-pads practice sessions this week — and praise-singing season was in full bloom at Halas Hall.

Jay Cutler beamed about being reunited with Brandon Marshall.

“He’s a guy that I’ve missed,” the Bears' QB admitted.

Marshall, a three-time Pro Bowler, is the type of wide receiver many Bears fans have longed for, too.

The Bears traded for him and drafted Alshon Jeffery in the second round this offseason so Cutler finally would have the big playmaking targets he badly has needed, but Cutler wanted to hype one of the team's smaller receivers on Wednesday.

“Devin Hester, I think, is probably having the best camp of all the receivers,” Cutler said. “We’ve got a lot of weapons.”

The tone wasn’t much different when Marshall spoke of his and Cutler’s maturation since their days as teammates with the Broncos.

“To see where we’re at now, where our football mind is now, it’s going to be really dangerous,” he said.

Marshall went over the top when he had his turn to answer a question about Hester.

“I honestly think he’s going to have an All-Pro year this year at wide receiver and I’m just going to ride along and enjoy it with him,” said Marshall, the only current Bear who has earned any league honors at the position.

Between Marshall, Jeffery, Hester and Earl Bennett, the Bears could have at least four wide receivers with the potential to make big plays, and the team’s leader in receiving yards in each of the past two seasons — Johnny Knox — may not even play next season as he tries to return from spinal fusion surgery.

Even without Knox, there suddenly is quality depth at wide receiver in Chicago.

For old times' sake Wednesday, Cutler even managed to work in a shot at the rigid style of Mike Martz, albeit without mentioning Martz’s name, when he was asked about his level of input in the offense under Mike Tice, Martz’s replacement at offensive coordinator.

“It’s a give-and-take, and that’s a breath of fresh air around here — being able to give ideas,” Cutler said. “Everyone give ideas and let’s pick the best ones that work for everybody.”

Cutler hasn’t always appeared to be content during his time with the Bears, but he did on Wednesday, and he has reason to be following the offensive restructuring spearheaded by GM Phil Emery.

The verbal bouquets stopped flying eventually, though. Cutler’s conversation with reporters Wednesday turned toward less pleasant matters — it’s not all unicorns and rainbows on the offensive line, not even in May when defenders are not allowed to come anywhere close to touching the quarterback.

The Bears’ roster has a sturdier build than it did a year ago, but there is still some fragility to it and the most unstable area is the one charged with protecting Cutler from pass rushers.

There are only a handful of NFL teams that don’t know who will be their starter at left tackle come Week One, but the Bears are one of them, and it appears they are going to be deciding between J’Marcus Webb and Chris Williams, who split reps with the first-team offense Wednesday.

Yes, Webb and Williams. The Bears will be choosing either Webb, the 2010 seventh-round pick who started every game at left tackle last season, or Williams, the 2008 first-round pick who moved from left tackle to left guard in ’10, to patrol Cutler’s blind side.

Williams was moved to guard because he was a better fit inside and is considered a bust because has never justified how highly he was drafted (14th overall). Webb is Tice’s pet project, but he didn’t show many encouraging signs of development last season, when he allowed 14 sacks and was penalized 13 times, according to STATS LLC.

The Bears’ first-round pick in 2011, Gabe Carimi, is the presumed starter at right tackle, but he was not participating Wednesday and is still working his way back from knee surgery. We still have to see when he will be 100 percent.

OLG Chris Spencer, C Roberto Garza and ORG Lance Louis manned the interior of the O-line with the first-team offense Wednesday. There is some good, but nothing great among that trio.

This is not a rosy situation for a team that expects to compete for a title.

Cutler said it’s going to be hard to really know where the O-line is at until training camp, when players will put on pads and have to do some actual blocking.

He’s right.

The scarier thought, and a very real possibility, for the Bears right now is what if August doesn’t offer much reassurance about the O-line?

It might turn out to be a decent group. We don’t know.

The skies were clear Wednesday, but dark clouds will be hanging over the Bears’ offensive line late in the summer if competition and uncertainty don’t yield solid answers.

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