The success of the 2012 season for the Chicago Bears may rely on one group of players who do not even touch the ball and score the points.
The offensive line for the Bears must do a better job protecting quarterback Jay Cutler and keeping him upright.
Cutler has been sacked 110 times since joining the Bears in 2009. That number would be much higher if Cutler did not miss seven games during those years with injury.
In terms of run blocking the offensive line does a pretty good job at creating holes. It is the pass blocking area that gets them in trouble.
Part of the problem is that former offensive coordinator Mike Martz put this group in a bad situation with some of his play calls. He would regularly call pass plays with seven step drops and slow developing routes. This puts the line in a bind because they were not capable of keeping Cutler protected for that long.
New offensive coordinator Mike Tice, the former offensive line coach, will call plays that are quick hitting and play to the line’s strengths. He will likely use more running plays and pass plays that get the ball out of Cutler’s hands quickly.
So far in training camp the Bears have been having an open competition at left tackle with J’Marcus Webb and Chris Williams. Webb got the nod over Williams at starter in the first preseason game but Tice and Smith said neither guy really came out and took control of the job.
This is going to be the biggest position battle in camp for the Bears going forward because it is the most important. The rest of the offensive line spots seem to be pretty locked in.
Former first-round pick Gabe Carimi is coming off a disappointing rookie season in which he only played one full game and parts of a second. A knee injury shelved him for almost all of 2011. It will be very important for him to get into a rhythm early on and become a dominant right tackle.
The guard positions will likely go to Chris Spencer on the left and Lance Louis on the right. Louis played both guard and tackle in 2011 and Spencer can play both guard positions as well as center. Louis played well during spurts in 2011 but must become more consistent to solidify the right side of the line.
Roberto Garza will return at center for the Bears. He moved to center in 2011 when the Bears and Olin Kreutz parted ways. For the most part Garza did a good job commanding the line. There were, no doubt, growing pains with Garza having never played center in the NFL. He should feel much more comfortable in 2012 in the middle.
With Cutler and running back Matt Forte coming back from injury, as well as the acquisition of wide receiver Brandon Marshall, the Bears' offense is expected to do big things in 2012. The key to them reaching their potential and making a push for the playoffs will rely on the offensive line.
If Cutler is protected and Forte has holes to run through this should be the Bears' best offense in quite some time.