Mike Tice confident in Bears offensive line
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — It doesn’t make sense that the Bears would invite so much change in their offensive line this season — especially when continuity at all positions is at a premium because of the lockout. Unless you’re bringing in a potential upgrade like Roy Williams or a better fit like tight end Matt Spaeth, the fewer new faces the better.
So whether it was a matter of principle or money that spoiled the deal with Olin Kreutz, the decision to part ways with the 13-year center and offensive-line anchor sure looks like a misplay on Jerry Angelo’s part. A year after paying $13 million to Chester Taylor and Brandon Manumaleuna you’re playing hardball with the heart-and-soul of your offense? A guy who once gave up more money in Miami to re-sign with the Bears when he was in his prime? A guy who once played 10 days after an appendectomy? Really?
It just didn’t seem prudent on any level. Sign Kreutz and you maintain continuity on a unit that thrived on continuity last season. With Kreutz at center and Roberto Garza at right guard, the Bears have two guys with a combined 18 years at their positions next to rookie right tackle Gabe Carimi — a security blanket that didn’t hurt rookie J’Marcus Webb in the same spot last season.
Without Kreutz you have an offensive line in which the only player in the same position as he was last year is left guard Chris Williams, a square peg shoved artfully into a round hole by offensive line coach Mike Tice last season.
Williams is a pretty significant question mark surrounded by question marks. Will Webb continue his upward career arc at left tackle? Can Garza play center in the NFL and handle the line-call responsibilities mastered by Kreutz? Is Lance Louis any better prepared to play right guard than he was last year, when he was replaced after four starts by Edwin Williams? And can Carimi, without any offseason on-field prep work, play right tackle in the NFL after being a left tackle in college?
And here’s one more: If Garza falters and Chris Spencer replaces him, how much of a setback will it be to plug in two new players (Spencer at center, Garza back to right guard) — and maybe three if Williams doesn’t cut it — in midstream?
Tice did not want to address that scenario Monday night, when he emphatically announced that the training-camp unit of Webb, Williams, Garza, Louis and Carimi are his starters until further notice.
‘‘I have five guys in there starting,’’ Tice said sternly. ‘‘Unless they falter, that’s who’s opening the season against Atlanta. Right now I’m not seeing that falter. What I’m seeing right now is improvement every day. That’s what I’m looking for.
‘‘Now if something happens in the game against Buffalo [Saturday at Soldier Field] — somebody doesn’t step up to the plate because of the added pressure of the game, then we have to create something. But right now I don’t see that. I don’t feel that either.’’
For a team that has struggled to overcome adversity under Lovie Smith, it seems like a death wish for the Bears to play with fire by letting Kreutz go and moving Garza from his best position.
That said, we need to suspend our cynicism and give the Bears the benefit of the doubt, because in Tice, the Bears have an offensive line coach who has done this thing before.
Tice has the credentials
Tice isn’t a miracle worker, but he’s got a resume that commands respect. In his five seasons as offensive line coach with the Vikings from 1997-2001, Tice had five players combine for 10 Pro Bowl appearances. Four of the five made it for the first time under Tice. With Tice, the Vikings running game was in the top six in the NFL in yards per carry for four years and 10th in 2001 after the death of Pro Bowl tackle Korey Stringer.
And while Webb wasn’t Anthony Munoz last year, he made more progress than Terrence Metcalf, Josh Beekman, Steve Edwards, Qasim Mitchell or any of the other offensive line prospects the Bears had before Tice got here.
But don’t take it from me. Take it from Super Bowl coach Brian Billick, who called Tice’s work with the Bears’ offensive line last season, ‘‘one of the great coaching jobs I’ve seen.’’
Or, better yet, take it from Kreutz.
‘‘We have the best offensive line coach in the league, period,’’ Kreutz told me in January.
They still do. And that’s good enough for me.