Year in Review: Offensive Line

C Olin Kreutz (Kevin C. Cox/Getty)

The Chicago Bears had one of the worst offensive lines in all of football last year, so this year's group should be commended for a solid effort. That being said, there's still a lot of improvement needed in the trenches. Bear Report takes a look back at 2008 for the O-line while also looking ahead to 2009.

2008 Review
Considering how bad the Monsters of the Midway were along the offensive line in 2007, there really was nowhere to go but up for this unit.


OT John Tait
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The plan from Day 1 was to have first-round draft pick Chris Williams start at left tackle, which would allow John Tait to move to a less taxing position on the right side. But then Williams went down on the second day of training camp drills with a back injury that eventually needed surgery, forcing career reserve John St. Clair into the lineup to protect quarterback Kyle Orton's blind side. St. Clair seemed to run out of gas down the stretch and struggled with some of the speedier edge rushers, although he did hold up quite well against the likes of Dwight Freeney and Julius Peppers the first few weeks and deserves a tip of the cap.

While the left guard position was totally up for grabs in the preseason, an injury to Terrence Metcalf opened the door for second-year pro Josh Beekman, who was whistled for a few too many pre-snap penalties but generally did good work.

Inside the Numbers
The Bears were dead last in the NFL last season at 3.1 yards per carry, and while this year's mark of 3.9 was only tied for 26th, it's a big improvement and a step in the right direction. Pass protection was also much better, as the front five allowed just 29 sacks in '08 as opposed to 43 in '07. Orton does a fine job making quick decisions and getting rid of the ball, but when he gets sacked he really gets sacked: Bears QBs lost an average of 7.9 yards every time they were taken to the turf, which was 30th in the league.

Thumbs Up
St. Clair was an emergency starter at left tackle, right tackle, and left guard last year, so the fact that he was durable enough to start 16 games at the most important spot on the line this year after Williams was scratched is impressive. Beekman isn't quite the athlete the retired Ruben Brown was in his prime, but he should improve because most of his errors were mental. Tait's career might be extended a year or two after making the switch from left tackle to right tackle, where he was especially effective in the running game.

Thumbs Down
Offensive linemen in particular make all kinds of Pro Bowls on reputation alone late in their careers, so center Olin Kreutz not getting an invite to Hawaii two years in a row now means he's in decline. Right guard Roberto Garza is a serviceable lineman at best, and it's clear he'll only get worse instead of better at this point. Why Metcalf is still gainfully employed remains a mystery, as he couldn't beat out Beekman and then got suspended four games for violating the league's steroid policy.

2009 Preview
Williams was able to return to the active roster by midseason and got some action on special teams and in three-tight end packages, so he'll have all offseason to get back to 100 percent and claim the left tackle job once and for all.


G Roberto Garza
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

What will happen at right tackle is harder to predict, as Tait has a $5.35 million cap number for next year and St. Clair is an unrestricted free agent. There is very little depth up front at Halas Hall that can be counted on for any contribution going forward, with practice squad tackle Cody Balogh possibly a candidate to be a backup next season. General manager Jerry Angelo needs to be ready to write some checks in free agency because he got nothing out of an in-season trade with Tampa Bay for guard Dan Buenning, plus losing St. Clair right now would be a tough pill to swallow since his versatility is so valuable.

Angelo grabbed both a guard (Chester Adams) and a tackle (Kirk Barton) with seventh-round choices in last April's draft but neither is with the club anymore, so it may be time to start investing some higher picks to fill those reserve roles.

John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.

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