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Bears’ Mike Tice expects offensive line to see ‘big jump’ vs. Giants

Buffalo Bills linebacker Shawne Merriman (56) sacks Chicago Bears quarterback Caleb Hanie (12) first half an NFL preseasfootball game Chicago

Buffalo Bills linebacker Shawne Merriman (56) sacks Chicago Bears quarterback Caleb Hanie (12) in the first half an NFL preseason football game in Chicago, Saturday, Aug. 13, 2011. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

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Updated: November 16, 2011 1:29AM



BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — Reaction to the unimpressive play of the Bears’ offensive line in the preseason opener against the Buffalo Bills was as unfavorable as it was swift and complete. When left guard Chris Williams, the chronic whipping boy of the line, is fourth or fifth on the list of grievances, you know it wasn’t pretty.

Even the most even-handed critics couldn’t help joining a chorus that went something like this: ‘‘I don’t want to make a rash judgment after the first preseason game .  .  . but I’m going to anyway: The Bears’ offensive line stinks.’’

The best news in the aftermath of that performance is that offensive line coach Mike Tice didn’t try to say anybody was wrong when he spoke with the media after practice Monday. He didn’t name names, but he didn’t have to. We’re not out for blood; we just want an acknowledgment that he saw the same game we did. It was a step in the right direction for a team that would argue whether the sky is blue if Joe in Evanston said so on any sports-talk show in town.

‘‘We had a handful of guys that played good, and I think those guys are evident,’’ Tice said. ‘‘We had a couple of guys that were on the cusp of playing winning football but didn’t. Then we had some guys that didn’t play well.

‘‘Not to call anyone out, [but] I think everybody knows who those guys are. It was pretty evident. They’re young. They need to improve this week. Normally from the first preseason game to the second, guys make a big jump. We’re looking for that big jump. I thought they bounced back today at practice and practiced well.’’

No matter how puzzling it might be that the Bears’ best center is starting for the New Orleans Saints, their best right guard is playing center and the most experienced center on their roster is a $3 million-a-year backup, it would have been even more disconcerting to see Roberto Garza back at right guard, Chris Spencer at center, Lance Louis at left guard and Gabe Carimi and J’Marcus Webb flipping tackle spots after one preseason game.

Maybe that will end up being their best setup, maybe it won’t. But to hear Tice emphatically endorse the lineup last week, then make changes after 20 or so plays of the first preseason game wouldn’t have said much for Tice. You could argue the Bears would deserve credit for quickly acknowledging their initial misjudgment. Fair enough. I would say even your bad decisions deserve more than 20 plays to pan out.

‘‘We don’t want to play musical lines, and we don’t want to hit a panic button because the [sack] numbers are what they are,’’ Tice said. ‘‘We can make [up] a lot of numbers. We can say that we gave up nine sacks. We could look at the ones that the line is accountable for and see if it’s possible to correct those things, and I really believe that we can.

‘‘So we’re going to work diligently on correcting those things this week and hopefully bounce back and have a great week of practice and carry more of those good practices over into the game [Monday against the New York Giants].’’

Tice said he was ‘‘disappointed’’ that Webb said after the game that he couldn’t match the intensity of Bills linebacker Shawne Merriman.

‘‘I have a problem with that from a personal standpoint that a player is saying he didn’t have the intensity level,’’ Tice said. ‘‘I mean, [bleep]. After sitting around for five months, you should have plenty of intensity built up.

‘‘I heard about that comment. But he’s got to practice better. He’s got to understand that we put a world of weight on his shoulders. He needs to step up, play better and grow up quickly because he’s out on an island. With our philosophy this year, hopefully we won’t have to keep backs in to chip, [so we can] get our [running backs] out and [get] more opportunities and more looks for the quarterback to get rid of the ball. He needs to buck up.’’

Louis at right guard didn’t play well after excelling in practice, but he doesn’t deserve to be flogged for his performance just yet, Tice said. Carimi was inconsistent and made rookie mistakes in his first NFL game, but he played better in the game than he had been playing in practice and will stay at right tackle.

‘‘He’s a warrior and a player,’’ Tice said. ‘‘When the lights came on, he stepped up.’’

So how long will Tice ride with this group? He isn’t tipping his hand. But it’s hard to believe there won’t be change if things don’t improve against the Giants.



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