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Monday, May 16, 2011

In Review- The Offensive Line

As part of my ongoing (and slow-moving) offseason unit-by-unit review, today we reach the offensive line. This one's naturally going to take awhile, as the Bear's offensive line was absolutely incompetent by any statistical measure. Even more impressive is the fact the offensive line is the only unit on the entire team without a single player that had something resembling a "good" year. I'll just start with the numbers, which are probably not even as horrifying to look at as the memories that will forever be seared into our brains, like the New York Giants gang-raping Jay, or Chester Taylor having the lowest YPC average of any back with 100 carries since the NFL merger (granted, he contributed quite a bit to that dubious distinction himself), or ultimately the constant barrage in the NFC Championship game that knocked Jay out and opened up the gates of hell. One quick note before I begin: obviously the Bears have addressed the problem somewhat by drafting Gabe Carimi, who will obviously not be in this review. Anywho, numbers (with NFL ranking):

Sacks allowed: 56 (32nd)
QB Hits allowed: 92 (24th)
Rushing Yards Per Game: 101 (22nd)
YPC: 3.9 (23rd)
Total Offensive YPG: 289.4 (30th)
Total Offensive PPG: 20.9 (21st)
18 False Starts, 19 Holding Calls.

They also had 53 running plays that resulted in negative yardage, which is really shitty as well, although I'm too lazy to add up all of those numbers for every team in order to give you a ranking, but just know that it's Bad. Really bad.

So, with numbers like that I don't know who you'd expect me to praise, which is good, because I'm not praising anybody, especially not....

#68 Frank Omiyale, Left Tackle
I despise Frank Omiyale. The guy got a huge contract despite failing to crack the Carolina Panthers' starting lineup solely because he Looks like he should be a good offensive lineman. That may seem like an oversimplification, but I'm convinced the only reason Frank still has a job is because Jerry Angelo had himself convinced that Frank was some kind of hidden jewel and Jerry would look like a genius if he panned out. So far he's been a disaster at left guard and right tackle and a very mediocre option at left tackle.

My biggest beef with Frank is his penalties, actually. Frank had SIX goddamn false starts this year, an astonishing total for a single offensive lineman, as a point of reference, noted flagrant false starter Flozell Adams committed three this season, and the NFL's most egregious offender, Alex Barron, averaged 8 over the last five years. Omiyale added a holding penalty onto that total, giving him 7 penalties for the year, which, when paired with the team-leading 13 sacks he allowed, paint a pretty terrible picture. I don't think we've seen the last of Frank, sadly, but I do believe Gabe Carimi will move him to the bench, as J'Marcus Webb is younger, has more upside, and is a favorite of Mike Tice's. That's good news for Bears fans.

#74 Chris Williams, Left Guard
It's hard to describe Chris Williams as anything more than a disappointment at this point. The Bears seem pretty convinced that he's not going to pan out as a tackle, and the reviews for him at left guard have been mixed at best. Considering the cloud of controversy that surrounded him when Jerry Angelo drafted him Knowing he had back problems, well, it's easy to say that Chris is facing a make or break season next year. I think he actually improved down the stretch last year at left guard, and the Bears gained 40 first downs and had 28 rushes of 10 or more yards to the left vs. 29 and 17 to the right. If this damnable lockout ever ends and Williams can continue to work with Tice and gain experience as a guard, I'm confident that he can improve on the 4.5 sacks he allowed this year. Chris has the size and the athleticism he needs to be a successful guard in this system he just needs to put it together. I'd have to say I like his outlook a lot better than many of the others on this unit.

#57 Olin Kreutz, Center
Am I the only one who never really thought Olin was that good to begin with? I think Olin's a tough sonofabitch. I think he was great when he was younger at pulling and swinging out and making some highlight reel blocks. Hell, the block Olin threw on Forte's 89 yard touchdown catch in the opener against the Lions should be on a poster somewhere.

The problem, however, is that Olin's not really that big and he's not all that great at pushing back interior defensive linemen, and that's a problem. Statistically, Olin was the least egregious offender of the bunch since he comitted just one false start and allowed only one sack (had four holding penalties though, which is a lot for an interior offensive lineman), but interior linemen are naturally going to have lower sack totals. Anyone that really watches Olin with an objective eye can tell that he isn't blowing anybody off the ball. The Bears managed to pick up just 7 rushing first downs up the middle this year and had 9 runs up the middle that resulted in negative yardage. Of the 6 games the Bears lost in the regular and postseasont his year, four of them (Redskins, Packers, @GB, GB playoffs) came against teams that have 3-4 defenses and large nose guards that absolutely destroyed Olin. If you want to see why the Bears were so miserable at gaining one damn yard in short yardage situations all year, go back to the Redskins game and watch Olin's miserable job of blocking a disinterested Albert Haynesworth on the Cutler goalline fumble. Guh.

Unfortunately, the Bears appear content to let another offseason go by without addressing Olin's aging. They'll probably re-sign him to a 2-3 year deal and continue to ignore his decline. The arrow's only pointing down on this one, folks.

#63 Roberto Garza, Right Guard
Then again, Kreutz's slow decline is certainly preferable to the outright implosion of Robert Garza. As recently as 2008 Garza was actually, according to FootballOutsiders, one of the NFL's best guards. He was certainly one of the few competent performers on last year's squad, but this year he absolutely exploded. Part of this can be blamed on the knee injury that required him to miss a few games following surgery, but nothing good can be said about an interior linemen who allowed 7.5 sacks in just 14 games, and who also committed two false starts and four holding penalties. I think it's very likely that we'll see Roberto facing stiff competition from Lance Louis in training camp, since Lance showed a lot of potential by allowing just one sack and committing no penalties in his brief four game stint at LG before the great shakeup that led to the Omiyale-Williams-Kreutz-Garza-Webb lineup that finished the season.

#73 J'Marcus Webb, Right Tackle
I can see why Mike Tice loves J'Marcus. The talent he has is undeniable. For one, his 6'7'', 310 frame is ideal for a left tackle and a huge plus at right. He's a mauler that can really take his man out of the game when he manages to get ahold of him. The problem, of course, is that J'Marcus is inexperienced and also not particularly bright (considering he had to leave Texas and attend West Texas A&M for academic reasons) and is easily fooled by experienced defensive ends. I can't say for sure how many times Webb just plain whiffed on a block, but it was enought that he allowed 10.5 sacks in just 12 starts. He also committed 6 penalties (2 false starts, 4 holding). I can see reasons for optimism, though. I'm not buying the company line that he's got prototypical skills and will someday be an outstanding left tackle, but I did see enough in him that I'm willing to hope that Tice can make him into a serviceable starter at right next year. The smart money should be on Carimi lining up on Cutler's blindside, however, regardless of the offseason smoke about Webb possibly shifting over.

The Bench:

#78 Kevin Shaffer, Tackle- He sucked and he's gone.

#60 Lance Louis, Guard- Easily the most promising young interior linemen the Bears have. He only lost his job thanks to a numbers game, as Omiyale was a better option (gulp) than Williams at left and Williams had to start somewhere thanks to his draft status. He'll be gunning for Roberto Garza's job and I wouldn't be surprised if he got it.

#62 Johan Asiata, Guard- We only saw Johan in 2 games, both in short yardage packages that gained nothing. Make of that what you will.

#70 Edwin Williams, Center/Guard- He wasn't awful when he was filling in for Garza, but he wasn't particularly impressive either. I don't think he should be considered Kreutz's heir apparent.

#67 Herman Johnson, Guard- Fat Herman was a pickup from the Cardinals practice squad who didn't play and has flirted with eating himself out of the NFL. I'd be shocked if he turned out to be anything more than a camp body next year.

All told, this is a unit that performed miserably in the first half, mostly below par in the second half, and finally was probably the biggest reason why the team came up short against Green Bay. I don't know how things will shake out once free agency actually begins, but I'd be shocked if the Bears didn't add at least one veteran to throw into the competition at guard. To their credit, I don't think the coaches intend to just give Williams the job at left guard next year. I think Carimi, Kreutz, and Webb are locks, but Louis, Garza, Williams, and Unknown Free Agent Guard will have one hell of a battle for it. Frank Omiyale should be, at worst a swing tackle and at best starting somewhere in the NFL. I'd have to say this unit should be the most improved on the team next year, if only because I'd hate to imagine how it could be worse.

Please Jebus, don't let it get worse.

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