Bigger is better as Bears look to add to offensive line
By Neil Hayes firstname.lastname@example.org April 26, 2011 9:24PM
The Bears have tried Chris Williams at right tackle, left tackle and left guard. Now they’re talking about trying him at center. | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 31, 2011 12:17AM
There are three reasons why the Bears must beef up the interior part of their offensive line, and they are big reasons, indeed.
Their names are Ndamukong Suh, B.J. Raji and Kevin Williams.Together, the defensive tackles for the Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings weigh almost 1,000 pounds and are changing the way Bears general manager Jerry Angelo evaluates guards and centers heading into the NFL draft, which starts Thursday.
The strength and power of the three NFC North defensive tackles, coupled with changes to the offensive coaching staff, have made a change in philosophy at Bears headquarters necessary.
‘‘We want to go bigger because we’ve got bigger people in our division that we’re playing against, Pro Bowl-type players,’’ Angelo said. ‘‘In fact, there’s three. So that is something we’re mindful of. So we’re not really looking at that guard/center. It’s not that we would pass up a player that we felt was a really good player. We’re not going to miss the forest for the trees. We’re still going to evaluate the quality of the player. But if everything is even, that’s the way we would go.’’
What Angelo means is that his scouts haven’t been beating the bushes for traditional guard/centers such as Josh Beekman, a 6-2, 310-pounder who was considered the heir apparent to veteran Olin Kreutz until offensive line coach Mike Tice came on board and Beekman was released. Tice and offensive coordinator Mike Martz want guards who look more like traditional tackles.
While the Bears might address their need for a center in the draft, they also have some in-house ideas, including one out-of-the-box possibility that might surprise.
‘‘We’ve kind of shifted in that we want bigger people,’’ Angelo said. ‘‘So we’re looking for tackles who can play guard rather than guards who can play center. So there’s a little bit of a shift in our thinking that way philosophically. I know coach Tice wants bigger people. Staffs we’ve had before, they weren’t as committed to that thinking. But there’s a little bit more of a shift. So when we look at offensive linemen, we’d like to think that the tackles and guards can be interchangeable.’’
There are plenty of intriguing candidates with the potential to step in at guard or center and start right away, including Mike Pouncey, the twin brother of Pittsburgh Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey, who was a rookie last season. Then there’s converted left tackle Danny Watkins of Baylor, a former firefighter who will turn 27 next season.
Throw in other potential rookie starters, such as Georgia’s Clint Boling, Lehigh’s Will Rackley and Wisconsin’s John Moffitt, not to mention several tackle candidates who might project to be guards in the pros, and the Bears have every reason to think they can find some big bodies to go against Suh, Raji and Williams.
‘‘It’s abnormal when players are that old,’’ Angelo said of Watkins. ‘‘You look at the position, and obviously players play into their 30s at that position . . . and still play good football. We’ve had a few here, and we have a few here. I don’t think it’s a red flag.’’
As for center, the Bears have confidence Edwin Williams can do the job if Kreutz, an unrestricted free agent, doesn’t return, which remains a possibility. There even have been discussions about moving Chris Williams to center, which would be a stunning admission for a team that drafted Williams 14th overall in 2008 to be the left tackle of the future.
On the other hand, the 6-6, 315-pound Williams would provide the added bulk Tice is looking for. Because his strength is his intelligence, he could make the line calls required of a center. The lack of aggressiveness he has displayed at guard and tackle would be less of a concern at center, where he would be required to make fewer one-on-one blocks.
It wouldn’t be an ideal situation — not by a long shot. But after playing Williams at right tackle, left tackle and left guard with disappointing results, it might be the Bears’ last chance to find him a long-term position where he can be effective. It also would give Angelo a chance to focus on other positions in the draft.