Thursday, April 28, 2011Posted: 12:00 AM
by John Mullin
Fourth in a series
The Chicago offensive line took some time to settle in during 2010. New players, new coaches, new scheme, injuries the Bears would like those difficulties to be behind them. But the chances of the same starting five that finished 2010 also beginning 2011 in the same places are remote, and the draft could figure into that.
Veteran center Olin Kreutz is a virtual lock to return after a free-agent offseason that may never completely get started, given the labor difficulties. The closer the regular season gets, the more the Bears need Kreutzs veteran presence in the middle and the less a new team will be inclined to bring in a 34-year-old from another offense.
Roberto Garza still works at right guard and amply proved his value (again) last season following lost time with a knee injury.
JMarcus Webb is virtually a lock as a starting tackle but right or left is undecided and could hinge on what is acquired via the draft. The Chris Williams Experience at guard appears over based on neither Jerry Angelo nor Lovie Smith committing to where Williams will play after seeing him most of last season at guard. Williams best NFL play arguably came at right tackle in the waning games of 2009 and his future is more likely outside rather than inside.
Frank Omiyale, who filled in at left tackle after Williams was injured early last season and held onto the job, did not secure the position and may be out of the starting lineup altogether after starting at three positions in two years.
Need: Perhaps the single biggest need area overall, both because of quality and quantity. The organization has invested little draft capital on the offensive line, relying heavily on free agency through the past decade. That must change starting at the end of this month.
The 2011 draft
The draft potentially lines up very well for the Bears to address the offensive line, particularly in the first round. The 2011 draft class is considered spectacularly deep at defensive end, a position the Bears will always strengthen with a pass rusher. But with as many as 15 first-round talents on the defensive line, the Bears may benefit from one or two quality offensive linemen being on the board when their turn comes at No. 29.
Its pretty good for interior offensive linemen, said ESPNs Mike Mayock, and you dont have to get them in the first round.
But can you get them late in the second round? That is a decision that could face the Bears, who also want to fortify defensive tackle. And if the Bears do choose to wait, or trade down out of round one, it is decidedly unclear whether the talent is such that immediate impact can come below round one.
That said, a rookie starter on the offensive line has traditionally been the exception rather than the rule, Pittsburgh Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey notwithstanding. Pounceys brother Mike is in the upcoming draft but chances of him lasting until No. 29 are virtually non-existent.
The Best Bets:
1. Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin He declared himself the best offensive linemen in this years draft, so swagger wont be a problem. The Bears paid close attention to him during the Badgers Pro Day but he is likely gone by No. 29.
2. Nate Solder, Colorado Like Carimi, Solder is a tackle and his landing in Chicago could send Chris Williams back inside to compete for playing time. A huge figure potentially in the Big Cat Williams tradition.
3. Danny Watkins, Baylor Perhaps the best true guard in the class. Watkins is a former firefighter so he comes into the NFL a few years later than ideal, but he is a physical, instant-starter type inside. Watkins or Georgias Clint Boling would settle the Bears left guard issue.
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.