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Bears’ Chris Spencer will have to work his way up depth chart

Bears offensive lineman Chris Spencer dismisses critics who say he lacks mean streak. | Nam Y. Huh~AP

Bears offensive lineman Chris Spencer dismisses the critics who say he lacks a mean streak. | Nam Y. Huh~AP

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Updated: November 16, 2011 1:23AM

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — When an NFL player is available, especially via unrestricted free agency, potential suitors are always leery.

The thinking is, teams don’t let very good players just walk away.

Chris Spencer, the Bears’ newest offensive lineman, isn’t sure why the Seattle Seahawks didn’t even bother to make him a contract ­offer. A 2005 first-round pick, Spencer turned 29 in March, and he has started at least 11 games in each of the last five seasons.

Last season, he missed only two of the Seahawks’ offensive snaps.

“I’m really not sure,” Spencer said when asked about the Seattle situation. “I think they just went younger.

“Just look across the board ­[referring to veterans Matt Hasselbeck and Lofa Tatupu, who were not ­retained]. ‘We don’t know if we’re going to be able to afford you.’ That’s really all I got.”

Spencer signed a two-year, $6 million contract, modest pay for a player of his age and experience.

Before he signed with the Bears, three NFL scouts told the Sun-Times that Spencer was the best of a weak crop of veteran centers. They said he was bright, athletic and likable.

But all three also had the same concern: Spencer isn’t the nasty sort of player who pulverizes a ­defensive lineman. One explained that Spencer often would be where he needed to be but still allowed an ­opponent to make a play because he didn’t finish.

“He won’t bury a guy,” one scout said.

That’s the shadow Spencer has to escape.

Olin Kreutz wasn’t the biggest center, he wasn’t the most athletic center, but he certainly was among the nastiest.

Indications are that Seahawks coach Pete Carroll wanted his offensive line to get bigger and meaner.

Guess what?

That’s what Bears offensive line coach Mike Tice favors, too. He likes big, athletic offensive linemen with a mean streak.

Spencer, though, resisted such critiques.

“You know, I just block it out ­because I know how hard I work,’’ he said. ‘‘I’m a hard worker, and I go to finish blocks. It’s always going to be something with critics, so I don’t pay it any mind.”

Tice and offensive coordinator Mike Martz have said that Spencer won’t be handed the starting center job currently manned by Roberto Garza. But Garza is 32, and most of his starts have come at guard.

As it stands now, with Garza at center, Lance Louis is lining up at right guard with the starters. But 2008 first-round pick Chris Williams has had a shaky start to training camp as the starting left guard.

Spencer said he doesn’t have any problem with working his way up the depth chart.

“That’s how this league works,” he said. “I’m just taking my time to get down what I need to get down and not put any added pressure on myself.”

Spencer is working on slowing down his feet and using his hands better. Still, his goal remains the same: start and make the Pro Bowl.

“I think it’s going to be a good situation for me to keep building,’’ Spencer said. ‘‘Being a competitor, that’s my goal.’’

The onus is on Tice, whom Martz and coach Lovie Smith have highlighted over the last week for his ability to teach and work with offensive linemen.

Tice will have his hands full.

That’s one of the reasons he ended the competition for the left-tackle spot between rookie Gabe Carimi and J’Marcus Webb.

“They both want to play left, but I just felt J’Marcus is a better athlete,” Tice said last week. “I made a move. I figured I’d have my time spent making sure we have a starting center we can count on and a starting right guard.”

Spencer acknowledged that Martz’s playbook is voluminous, but he said he’s picking it up fine and his linemates have been helpful.

“These guys have been awesome,’’ Spencer said. ‘‘We eat lunch together and hang out. It’s been good.”

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