Friday, Feb. 25, 2011
Posted 5:15 p.m.
By John Mullin
INDIANAPOLIS The Bears spent much of last year working through a fire drill on the offensive line, between injuries, necessary changes and whatever else was dealt to coach Mike Tice. Finally things settled with Frank Omiyale at left tackle, JMarcus Webb at right, Chris Williams at left guard, Roberto Garza at right and Olin Kreutz at center.
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That group settled in place after the off week and there followed a turnaround of eight wins in 10 games prior to the NFC Championship game. All was then peaceful in the Kingdom of Bear O-Line.
Now the prospect is growing that none of the five positions that took so long to settle will have the same starter in 11 that finished 10.
Kreutz is an unrestricted free agent and can be re-signed at some time barring a lockout. But the Bears are high on the potential of Edwin Williams at center and no other position up front is by any means set.
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What the goal is is get your five talented players playing at the same time, general manager Jerry Angelo said Friday at the NFL Scouting Combine. Thats what we want to do. Does that mean Chris Williams is a tackle or a guard? We cant determine that yet. Do I have a preference? Not really, only because hes been exposed to the guard position so weve seen some things, just like Frank Omiyale. Weve created some versatility on the offensive line.
Coach Lovie Smith, he of the new two-year contract extension and the ultimate decision-maker on position assignments, concurred. Williams may be a right tackle. Or a right guard. Webb will get a long look at left tackle. And the Bears have offensive line as a high priority in a draft that has some quality and depth in that area.
There are very few positions that I would say that were set, Smith said. I dont think you make those types of statements at this time. I think what you do in all seasons, you look at all the different options. You look at the best combination at a lot of different positions.
The Bears have been one of the NFLs major players in big-ticket free agents for many years, contrary to the mistaken notion that they will not spend money on talent.
Muhsin Muhammed (30 million). Julius Peppers (91 million). Bryan Cox from another era. Trading draft choices for and then extending Jay Cutler.
But with the salary cap expected to decline slightly and a major investment having been made last year in Peppers, Brandon Manumaleuna and Chester Taylor, the Bears are not expected to be making a huge deal in the market, whenever NFLNFLPA negotiations establish that there is one.
Can we get the big fish? Angelo mused. I dont know. I havent seen the bait yet, and until I know how much bait we can put on the hook, I dont know that we can get the big fish. Thats going to be determined once we have a clear understanding of where the cap is.
"The reality is that it is difficult to land the guy in free agency two years in a row. Nearly 500 players are potentially going to be some form of free agents this offseason but again signing a franchise-level player is a difficult thing to do, Angelo said. You dont want to come out every year having to spend big chunks of money on one player. Thats not the goal. But if its a unique situation and we determined that signing Julius Peppers last year was a unique situation.
I think that was really an aberration of free agency. We thought he was a special player. Obviously, he was a fit. He was a need. And we felt like that was the right thing. So were not going to get stuck in a philosophy where we miss the big picture. Thats not really something we set out to do each and every year.
In some situations it will make sense to pursue one player at all costs as the one that will put a franchise over the top. The Dallas Cowboys did that with defensive end Charles Haley, whom Jimmy Johnson called the final piece that propelled the Cowboys to three Super Bowl wins in the 1990s.
The Bears were within seven points of reaching the Super Bowl. A conclusion might be that they are one player away but that is not the thinking upstairs at Halas Hall.
I dont really want to do that, Angelo said. I think when you start doing that you mis-calculate, you mis-evaluate your football team. Ive seen teams do that. Ive been part of teams that have done that. That hit or miss rarely hits. So we dont want to get into that mindset. Theres got to be a plan in place.
We dont want to go into it where, Hey, its that one guy. Thats desperate. The quarterback position, thats different. Thats totally different. The value of that position speaks for itself. We did a lot. We were very aggressive because of that position. We all understand the value of that position. Take that position out of it, its not something where I feel like were one player away. Were not one player away. We need to get better at positions. We need to upgrade, create more competition, and then weve got to come together as a team.
John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.