How important is the O-line? How 'bout "playoff-important"

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How important is the O-line? How 'bout "playoff-important"

The upgrading of the Bears offensive line, whether through free agency or the draft, possibly both, is expected to be the primary task in Phil Emerys second offseason as general manager. He said as much twice while detailing the hiring of coach Marc Trestman.

Emery referred to evaluations by STATS Inc. that placed the Bears 26th, which tells me weve got to get better, Emery said. Weve got to get better. I look at that from the perspective: how does that impact winning?

The analysts at ProFootballFocus.com offer a similar assessment, placing the Bears O-line 30th among the NFLs front fives. And while no statistical ranking usually offers a definitive simple arrow pointing to success, PFFs analyses underscore Emerys conclusion.

Interestingly, left tackle JMarcus Webb was the choice as Stud, or in this case the least-bad lineman (none had positive grades for the season). Webb took a substantial step up in 2012 and is described as an adequate left tackle with the note, you can win with those.

Right tackle Gabe Carimi was the designated Dud and on the path to Bustville. Based on 2012, the final No. 1 pick of Jerry Angelo will not have a lot of supporters going into this years training camp.

The winning impact

The role of an offensive line in success certainly doesnt need any belaboring. But a correlation of rankings with NFL results in 2012 is worth noting.

The bad Cleveland Browns ranked fifth, but that includes left tackle Joe Thomas, one of the NFLs elite. The woeful Kansas City Chiefs were 12th.

But only three of the NFLs playoff teams (Seattle 20th, Green Bay 21st, Indianapolis 31st) rank worse than 17th, which is Baltimore. The Colts and Bears do demonstrate that you can be a winning, even playoff, team without an elite offensive line.

However, all three of those sub-17th offensive lines had Pro Bowl quarterbacks behind them (Andrew Luck, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson). Seattle and Green Bay also had top-11 scoring defenses.

As Ive noted previously, Emery in fact did some addressing the offensive line. For instance, had he drafted James Brown in, say, the fourth round (where Brown was widely projected to go), and Brown ended the season starting (he did), some of the criticism might have been less strident. And he picked up eventual Carimi replacement Jonathan Scott just after the season started, which is actually something of an accomplishment, finding a serviceable player among NFL discards.

What the Bears invest in the offensive line this offseason will be more than signing discards and undrafted rookie free agents.

Bears-49ers: And the winner is?

Bears-49ers: And the winner is?

Both teams are on track to be drafting in the top five, and the inevitable “the loser is the winner” talk has made its rounds, meaning that a defeat moves the loser higher in the draft order. The reality is that neither team will tank the game for draft position.

But the chances of two woeful teams playing well are slim. The 49ers won in Week 1 and then have lost 10 straight. The Bears are trying to avoid losing four straight for the first time under John Fox.

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Quarterback Colin Kaepernick burst upon the NFL scene in 2012 with a blowout of the Bears in his first start. He has regained his starting job in San Francisco and is still one of the prototypical mobile quarterbacks.

But the 49ers are the NFL’s worst defense in both points and yardage allowed, and they are the worst rushing defense in the league. Expect the Bears to try exploiting that and give quarterback Matt Barkley a balanced run-pass game plan.

Prediction: Bears 24, 49ers 20

Bears hoping to get Kyle Fuller back in DB mix sooner rather than later

Bears hoping to get Kyle Fuller back in DB mix sooner rather than later

Kyle Fuller was one of the seeming fixtures in the Bears’ defense as it transitioned from the 4-3 of old to the 3-4 of Vic Fangio. And he may be again, the Bears hope very soon, as he has begun practicing after months on injured reserve following knee surgery in August.

The Bears could place Fuller on the active roster as late as Saturday after he practiced all three days this week. “He made it three days in practice, no setbacks,” said coach John Fox. “He seems to be adapting pretty well. He has another practice [Saturday] and we don’t have to make a decision until 3 p.m. because of where he is on the roster. We’ll evaluate that after tomorrow.”

Were Fuller to return — restoring one projected 2016 starter to a defense that has been forced to field five different starting secondaries in the span of 11 games — he may be phased back in with a managed number of snaps, as other certain other players returning from injury have been.

But getting Fuller back projects to be an instant upgrade for a defensive backfield among the NFL’s worst at producing takeaways.

“We all play different positions so we’re kind of used to it, people moving in and out over the year,” said Bryce Callahan, who was initially ticketed for nickel duty as the No. 3 cornerback this season but has been pressed into service starting at cornerback in four games.

“It’s always good to get someone like Kyle back.”

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The Bears would need to weigh what workload Fuller could handle vs. roster needs based on only having 46 players active on game day.

“You’re always a little bit cautious because it does affect your roster,” Fox said. “But if you feel like he makes you better, that’s a move you make. Now we’re just working through him medically, durability-wise, and how much he can play.”

Jay Cutler (shoulder) was officially declared out and is headed for surgery on Saturday, ultimately to injured reserve.

Other availability questions include receiver Eddie Royal (toe), guard Josh Sitton (ankle) and safety Adrian Amos (ankle), all questionable. Linebacker Willie Young (knee) did not practice but linebacker Leonard Floyd was able to practice on a limited basis although his status in the concussion protocol will not be known until closer to game time.