Phil Emery was looking for upgrades on the offensive line last year but was thwarted by a shortage of available talent. This offseason he didn’t wait.
New Orleans left tackle Jermon Bushrod was a quick strike and New York Jets guard Matt Slauson was added on a one-year deal. J’Marcus Webb, graded out as the Bears’ best offensive lineman last season, moves to right tackle and will be challenged by Jonathan Scott, who took over for Gabe Carimi and started six of the last seven games of 2012.
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What the Bears don’t have, however, is a second starter-grade guard after Slauson. Gabe Carimi is getting a chance after starting three games at right guard last year, as is James Brown, an undrafted free agent who started the last three at left guard. Neither is a lock to win a starting job at this point.
The strength of the draft is the offensive line, which could account for six of the first 18 picks between four tackles and two guards. Tackles Luke Joeckl, Eric Fisher and Lane Johnson should be gone in the top 10 and D.J. Fluker is a first-round lock. Add in guards Jonathan Cooper and Chance Warmack, plus perhaps tackles Menelik Watson and Terron Armstead, and 2013 looms to NFL offensive lines what 1983 was to quarterbacking.
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Because of the depth and quality in the overall group, which also should include the likes of Alabama center Barrett Jones and Oregon guard Kyle Long, chances for starter-grade picks exist beyond round one.
Phil Emery has positioned the Bears to have options not to be forced into drafting an offensive lineman or two, reaching for a pick out of need. That said, center Roberto Garza is 34, only one guard spot is secure and right tackle is a competition between a journeyman (Scott) and a contract-year hopeful (Webb).
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The work in free agency made up for some miscalculations last offseason when the organization believed it was reasonably set with a pair of young tackles (Carimi, Webb), hence no draft picks for O-linemen in 2012. Needs elsewhere can be addressed, but the Bears could be on the brink of their best offensive line since the 2006 Super Bowl season with some youth as well. If one of the elites fall within range, the Bears could surprise with a move to select a lineman, even the first round.
Likelihood to draft: Medium, rounds 4-5