Mullin's 2011 draft capsules: Offensive line

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Mullin's 2011 draft capsules: Offensive line

Thursday, April 28, 2011Posted: 12:00 AM

by John Mullin
CSNChicago.com
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.

The Bears

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.

There is some depth in the form of Lance Louis and Edwin Williams but neither held onto starting jobs when they had them last year.

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:

(In the interest of relevance, because tackles Tyron Smith and Anthony Castonzo, and Mike Pouncey are expected to be gone, CSNChicago.coms ranking picks up after those three)

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.

Jordan Howard wants to lead Bears... and lead the league

Jordan Howard wants to lead Bears... and lead the league

So Jordan Howard finished second in the NFL in rushing in his rookie season, despite just a dozen carries in the first three games. The fifth-round pick joined the man who beat him out for the rushing title, Ezekiel Elliott, as one of just five rookies in history to average five or more yards per carry on over 250 carries. And he set the Bears' rookie rushing record with his 1,313 yards while becoming just the fourth in franchise history to rush for that many yards in a season.

Sounds pretty hard to top, like we might be set up for the dreaded sophomore slump.

But...

"Things are a lot different this year because I know what to expect," Howard said during the team's minicamp two weeks ago. "I know all the plays and things like that. I’m not out there thinking, so I can just play free and fast.

"I definitely feel like a veteran 'cause I know what to expect and can help the young guys on the plays that they're not understanding. I’m just more comfortable and want to be a leader."

One of the other things we learned about Howard last year is he's low-key, a man of few words. So the Indiana product by way of UAB will make his points verbally when needed, but his actions will speak louder.

"He was a rookie a year ago and didn't even go in trying to be a leader, telling a five-year guy what was up," said head coach John Fox. "I think with time, and obviously with production like he had, I think it's a role he can fall in to. We're in a performance-based business and even in that locker room, what they do on Sundays gives them some credibility."

One of the concerns about Howard coming out of college was durability, but he answered the bell once he became the starter in week four against Detroit. And he probably wasn't used nearly as much as he should have. The good news about that is he was subject to less wear and tear, averaging just 18 carries per game from that Lions game on.

But besides taking more of a leadership role, Howard wanted to work on his speed without sacrificing the strong base that, paired with keen vision and work by the offensive line, allowed him to hit holes quickly and charge toward the second level of opposing defenses.

"Just improving on the little things – my conditioning, my weight, catching passes. And looking for ways to finish runs better," says Howard. "I feel like I’m in much better shape than I was at this time last year, a little more toned-up."

"It's just training," said Fox. "When you get to that it's more like track speed than football speed and I think he proved pretty worthy of that a year ago as a rookie. Y'know we all can improve on things, and that's the expectation. He's trained hard.

"This time of year last year he wasn’t even practicing," Fox remembered. "I like where we are, we’ve brought in more competition, and he’s better for it. He’s kind of gotten used to an NFL season, he’s come back ready to roll, but he still has work to do before we get to training camp."  

Oh, and the 22-year-old has a couple of other goals he didn't mind sharing, besides being a leader and getting a little faster.

"First off, make the playoffs. Be the leading rusher, and just help the team in any way I can and stay consistent."

Did Brandon Marshall disrespect Jay Cutler with Hall of Fame shade?

Did Brandon Marshall disrespect Jay Cutler with Hall of Fame shade?

Brandon Marshall is no stranger to keeping it real.

The outspoken All-Pro receiver never minces his words and that continued over the weekend when he showed off his signed jersey collection.

Marshall took to Instagram and showed off "Santa" hanging all of the jerseys he's swapped with other NFL players:

Santa doing work.. . #jerseychallenge

A post shared by Brandon Marshall (@bmarshall) on

The list includes a host of current and future Hall of Fame players: Champ Bailey, Cris Carter, John Lynch, Darrelle Revis, Lance Briggs, Adam Vinatieri, Adrian Peterson, Larry Fitzgerald, Joe Thomas.

When almost all the framed jerseys were hung, Marshall took his followers through:

@nfl #jerseychallenge

A post shared by Brandon Marshall (@bmarshall) on

Marshall compliments each player before, calling them "Hall of Famers" before getting to Jay Cutler at the end and going "Hall of..." multiple times.

Was that Marshall throwing shade at his former quarterback in both Denver and Chicago? If it was an innocent mistake or whatever, there's no way Marshall would've posted the Instagram video, right?

Marshall and Cutler were good friends from the beginning of their careers with the Broncos. So much so that the Bears traded a pair of third round draft picks in March 2012 to allow the two to continue their bromance by the lake:

But Marshall and Cutler have had a contentious relationship since.

Last summer, Marshall responded to a Tweet saying "of course" he misses Cutler. Last August, Marshall hopped on ESPN's First Take and said he thought Cutler could win the MVP Award in the 2016 NFL season.

At the same time, Marshall talked about his relationship with Cutler and said he was the only person on the Bears with the "huevos" to hold the enigmatic quarterback accountable. Marshall also said he was "sad" he didn't talk to Cutler much in the year leading up to August 2016.