Time for Bears to protect Jay Cutler’s blind side
NEIL HAYES ON THE BEARS July 25, 2011 11:00PM
SEATTLE - DECEMBER 07: Matt Light #72 of the New England Patriots gets ready to move at the snap during the game against the Seattle Seahawks on December 7, 2008 at Qwest Field in Seattle, Washington. The Patriots defeated the Seahawks 24-21. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
DT Anthony Adams: Solid player and locker-room favorite who wants to return to the Bears.
S Josh Bullocks: Didn’t challenge for starting spot in 2010.
TE Desmond Clark: No reason to come back after being inactive for all but five games.
QB Todd Collins: After last season, expect him to retire.
WR Rashied Davis: A standout special-teams player who proved he can help out on offense.
DB Corey Graham: Special-teams ace wants to contribute on “D.”
LB Brian Iwuh: Solid special-teamer and backup linebacker.
C Olin Kreutz: Unquestioned leader is aging but best available option.
DB Danieal Manning: Turned down offer from Bears and will test the market.
P Brad Maynard: Has been told the Bears don’t plan to re-sign him.
LB Nick Roach: Bears would like to have him back, but he wants chance to start.
LB Pisa Tinoisamoa: Has been strong-side presence when healthy.
LB Rod Wilson: Might get chance to win job in training camp.
RB Garrett Wolfe: Doubtful he will return after failing to find a niche on offense.
Updated: October 29, 2011 12:34AM
Jerry Angelo acknowledged that the offensive line was the team’s biggest question mark entering last season.
Guess what? The same is true now that the lockout is over and the Bears are packing for training camp. That’s why center Olin Kreutz and defensive tackle Anthony Adams shouldn’t be the first people the Bears’ general manager calls when teams are allowed to contact free agents today.
As important as it is to re-sign them, the top priority is filling the hole at left tackle. The top three free agents available at the position are Matt Light, Jammal Brown or Doug Free.
The plan is for J’Marcus Webb to start camp at left tackle, with rookie Gabe Carimi at right tackle.
Since Carimi played left tackle at Wisconsin and Webb started 12 games at right tackle as a rookie last season, keeping them in the spots they played last year also makes sense. But many believe Webb would be more able to matchup against elite pass rushers on the left side because he’s more athletic.
Chris Williams and Frank Omiyale are expected to compete at left guard, with the loser likely becoming the backup at both tackle spots.
What that means is, one season after leading the league with 56 sacks allowed, the Bears are betting on a rookie and a second-year player drafted in the seventh round.
It’s difficult enough for a rookie to win a starting job in camp during a normal year, but it will be that much harder for Carimi without the benefit of minicamps and organized team activities. Webb might have benefitted the most from spending the offseason with offensive line coach Mike Tice as he makes the transition to the left side.
As if counting on two players to play positions they have never played before in the NFL isn’t reason enough for an upgrade, consider this: Tice doesn’t know what kind of shape any of the aforementioned left tackle candidates will be in when they report to camp. No one is accusing them of loafing this offseason, but it’s a concern until proven otherwise.
Light would be the ideal candidate. He has protected Tom Brady’s blind side for a decade and could do the same for Jay Cutler while Webb and Carimi compete at right tackle. The Patriots likely will part with the three-time Pro Bowl player after using a first-round pick on Colorado tackle Nate Solder. Known for his leadership, Light, 33, would be perfect to help Kreutz lead the line while serving as a mentor for the two young tackles of the future.
Brown, who played with the Redskins last year, has had injury issues in recent years, but he’s a two-time Pro Bowl selection with experience on the left side. The Cowboys are expected to make re-signing Free a priority. If not, the former Northern Illinois standout is another worthy candidate.
If the Bears can’t land Light, Brown or Free, free agents such as the Broncos’ Ryan Harris and the 49ers’ Barry Simms would provide more depth than the Bears have.
The Bears will play solid defense and special teams. The key to the season is improving an offense that finished 30th in yards and 21st in points last season. Upgrading the offensive line is the best way to improve the unit, and left tackle is the most important position on the line.
Toss in that NFC North foes are loaded with quality defensive linemen, and Angelo can’t afford to ignore the position in free agency for a second consecutive year.