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Bears must address issues with offensive line during offseason

J’Marcus Webb (73) hasn’t provided Jay Cutler with kind protectihe needs. | Joe Robbins~Getty Images

J’Marcus Webb (73) hasn’t provided Jay Cutler with the kind of protection he needs. | Joe Robbins~Getty Images

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Updated: December 26, 2012 6:26AM

The Bears are guaranteed only six more games this season, their hope of a long playoff run called into question by a recurring issue.

Pass protection.

The Bears were counting on the continued development of left tackle J’Marcus Webb, the rehabilitation of right tackle Gabe Carimi and solid play from their veteran interior linemen.

After 10 games, though, the Bears have allowed 34 sacks, the second-most in the NFL and nearly triple what the Houston Texans and New York Giants have permitted. There’s no more time for patience after an embarrassing performance against the San Francisco 49ers in which veteran Jason Campbell was sacked three times on three-step drops.

‘‘When you’re calling three-step drops, the last thing on your [mind] and your fear or anxiety is a sack,’’ offensive coordinator Mike Tice said. ‘‘And so that kind of catches you a little bit.’’

Replacing Carimi with veteran Jonathan Scott and reinserting Chris Spencer into the starting lineup are Band-aid solutions.

Last offseason, general manager Phil Emery’s priority was finding a playmaker. Next offseason, his priority has to be pass-blockers.

That’s necessary for several reasons. What’s the point of investing a long-term deal in Matt Forte if the linemen can’t open up holes for him? Why bother trying to re-sign Jay Cutler, who will be eligible for free agency after the 2013 season, if they’re not going to give him time to throw? And how is it worthwhile to give up two third-round picks and commit to hefty base salaries for receiver Brandon Marshall if the Bears have to be in max-protect all the time?

The good news for the Bears is that they can upgrade the unit in the spring. They have $13 million in salary-cap space (nearly double the league average) and most of their key draft picks.

The top free-agent linemen are the Miami Dolphins’ Jake Long and the Denver Broncos’ Ryan Clady, but their teams likely will re-sign them. The next level includes the Kansas City Chiefs’ Branden Albert, the New England Patriots’ Sebastian Vollmer, the Atlanta Falcons’ Sam Baker and the Cincinnati Bengals’ Andre Smith.

The Chiefs don’t have much, which means they’re probably inclined to keep one of their better building blocks in Albert. So the veterans who make the most sense are Vollmer, who might be too hard for the Patriots to secure for the long term, and Baker, whom Emery is familiar with from his days with the Falcons.

The Bears, though, are probably more inclined to build through the draft, given Emery’s college background. And the 2013 crop is expected to be strong, especially if some juniors declare for the draft.

Some of the first-round-caliber offensive tackles include Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews of Texas A&M, Taylor Lewan of Michigan, Eric Fisher of Central Michigan, D.J. Fluker of Alabama, Chris Faulk of LSU and Ricky Wagner of Wisconsin.

The Bears’ draft position, of course, depends on how they fare the rest of the way. But Lewan and Joeckel are projected as top-10 picks, which would cost the Bears far too much to land them. There are also some high-quality guards, most notably Chance Warmack of Alabama.

But the Bears can’t stand pat and can’t hope to find a diamond in the rough. Webb has allowed eight sacks and Carimi 6½, according to STATS. Pro Football Focus ranks Webb 48th and Carimi 64th among NFL offensive tackles.

That’s simply unacceptable.


Scott empathizes

Jonathan Scott was an All-American at Texas and has started plenty of NFL games. And while he embraces his latest chance to start, he knows what Gabe Carimi is going through.

‘‘I’ve been in his shoes,’’ Scott said. ‘‘I’m pretty sure it was worse.’’

He has been released a couple of times after disastrous seasons by his previous teams, the Detroit Lions and Buffalo Bills.

‘‘Everyone got fired,’’ he said. ‘‘It was just bad luck. It’s crazy how things work.

‘‘But it’s a business. You can’t get too emotionally attached to one team.’’

Quick hits

The Bears are tied with the Green Bay Packers for the fewest missed tackles in the league (37). The New Orleans Saints have missed an NFL-high 82.

• According to STATS, Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson leads the NFL with 283 rushing yards in the fourth quarter. Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III and Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch are second at 270.

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