O-line key for Bears to turn season around

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O-line key for Bears to turn season around

Twice in the span of barely a year, the Bears have accomplished major season-altering turnarounds. Now, to save 2011, they need a third.

And the group squarely at the crossroads with the heaviest turnaround load, as it was at the off week in October 2010 and again after the consecutive losses to New Orleans and Green Bay in September, is the offensive line.

The line was the point of the spear that reversed the slide last year after the sack nightmares against the Giants, Seahawks and Redskins. It was the main difference going from five sacks against Atlanta, six at New Orleans and three vs. Green Bay to just nine sacks over the next seven games.

But Caleb Hanie was sacked four times at Oakland and seven by Kansas City and the offense has averaged less than four yards per carry in three of the last four games.

The line, and the Bears, are at a crossroads.

I'm completely confident in those guys, said Hanie, who took blame for some of the sacks by the Chiefs in particular. They're playing their butts off in there. From left tackle to right tackle, from J'Marcus Webb to Lance Louis, they're going to fight, and that's what type of group they are, and I'm confident they'll have a good game.

They will need it.

Broncos battles

Where the Chiefs came into the Bears game with only 13 total sacks, the Broncos have 32 and with edge rushers in end Elvis Dumervil and linebacker Von Miller significantly better than what either Oakland or Kansas City fielded.

They are fast. They are very fast, said line coach Mike Tice. They are very tenacious. They remind me a lot of the Steelers. They get after it pretty damn good.

Miller in particular; the Bears think enough of him to put a red 58 jersey on a scout-team linebacker to condition the offense to accounting for Miller.

Hes a phenomenal player, Tice said. Were going to know where hes at all times.

Confidence crisis?

The line was not helped by play-calling in the fourth quarter vs. Kansas City that consisted of 15 pass plays and two runs but played generally OK except for Louis, who had perhaps his worst game of the year. He was beaten by speed rushers for multiple sacks after a steady run of strong performances previously both as a blocker and running down a Raider to save a touchdown.

Now he is at a particular crossroads with the Bears needing him to put a nightmare game behind him.

I think theyve been doing a great job, Tice said. We had unfortunate circumstance with one of our players who didnt play up to the way he had been playing. For a guy who has been thrown over there, at right tackle, who has been holding the fort pretty good. Im not down on him. Hes down on himself, a little bit right now. I dont think he should be. We could have helped him as a staff, a little more, and we will, moving forward.

Hes got to bounce back, and we all got to bounce back.

Bears' Josh Sitton finds fourth Pro Bowl most meaningful yet

Bears' Josh Sitton finds fourth Pro Bowl most meaningful yet

Sometimes the passage of time makes things a little sweeter.
 
Josh Sitton had been selected to three Pro Bowls while a member of the Green Bay Packers. At the end of training camp last year, the Packers abruptly released Sitton.
 
On Monday, Sitton was named to his fourth Pro Bowl, replacing former Green Bay teammate T.J. Lang. At age 30, this Pro Bowl was special.
 
"It's a great honor, always a goal of mine every year," Sitton said via conference call. "It's an honor to me and to the guys I play with, the guys helping me along...
 
"I would say just the age thing, the older you get, the more you appreciate them. You can't play at a high level in this game so the whole age thing makes it even more special."

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]
 
When the Bears were forced to go into Week 1 of the 2015 season with a shuffled offensive line, the situation wasn't ideal; Pro Bowl guard Kyle Long moving to right tackle as a hurried fill when neither Charles Leno nor Jordan Mills were an answer.
 
The 2016 season also began with an unexpected and significant shuffle, but this time with one that immediately bumped up the quality of the line. GM Ryan Pace moved quickly to sign Sitton after his release by the Green Bay Packers, a step that bumped rookie Cody Whitehair from guard to center, where he earned All-Rookie honors from the Pro Football Writers Association of America.
 
"It was challenging for sure," Sitton said. "It was something I haven't had to do for quite some time but it was stimulating being thrown in and needing to learn the offense in four or five days."
 
Sitton, who signed a three-year contract worth as much as $21 million with $10 million guaranteed, joins rookie running back Jordan Howard as the two Bears scheduled to play in the Pro Bowl. He started 12 of 13 games in 2016, missing time with an ankle injury but being a strong presence in a line that ranked No. 8 in sack percentage while getting Howard to a franchise-record 1,313 rushing yards even with a rookie center and a group that never played a game together before Week 1 in Houston against the Texans.
 
"I think we can only get better, now that we'll have an offseason together," Sitton said. "We'll see what we can do."

Bears guard Josh Sitton named as injury replacement in Pro Bowl

Bears guard Josh Sitton named as injury replacement in Pro Bowl

The Bears have another Pro Bowler.

After initially getting shut out on the Pro Bowl roster, the Bears have since had two players named as injury replacements with guard Josh Sitton now joining running back Jordan Howard.

Sitton was named as an injury replacement Monday afternoon for Packers guard T.J. Lang, who left Sunday's NFC Championship game early.

This will be Sitton's third straight Pro Bowl and fourth career honor.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

The 30-year-old offensive lineman signed with the Bears before 2016 after the Packers released him.

Sitton played in 13 of the Bears' 16 games including 12 starts, helping to anchor the Bears' line when healthy.

Howard replaced Cardinals running back David Johnson on the NFC Pro Bowl roster earlier this month.