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Bears pay price for ignoring offensive line
By Bob LeGere | Daily Herald Staff

The last time the Bears drafted an offensive lineman who paid big dividends was in 1998 when they picked Olin Kreutz.

 

Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

It remains to be seen whether first-round draft pick Chris Williams will become a solid anchor of the Bears offensive line.

 

Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

Offensive lineman Josh Beekman (67) got his first start of the season on Sunday against Cleveland.

 

Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

Atlanta Falcon's quarterback Matt Ryan and Chicago Bears' Josh Beekman exchange greetings after their game at the Atlanta Dome on Oct 18. Beekman will get his second start of the season on Sunday against Arizona.

 

Elissa Eubanks, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Published: 11/3/2009 6:09 PM | Updated: 11/3/2009 10:22 PM

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The Bears can rearrange the deck chairs all they want on their Titanic of an offensive line, but the fact remains this group lacks talent.

That's what happens when an entire unit is almost completely ignored in the draft for seven years.

General manager Jerry Angelo has always said that the Bears are and will be a draft-driven team. But by ignoring the offensive line on Draft Day for seven years, that unit has been driven into a ditch.

Since 2003, the Bears have had 45 draft picks in the first five rounds. They've used two of those picks on offensive linemen, taking Chris Williams in the first round in 2008 and Josh Beekman in the fourth round in 2007.

In the four years before Beekman was selected, the Bears didn't draft a single offensive linemen with any of their 25 picks in the first five rounds.

Inserting Beekman in place of Frank Omiyale at left guard last week may have helped improve the sluggish ground attack, and giving Kevin Shaffer a shot at right tackle in place of Chris Williams might also provide an upgrade, at least in the run game. But this offensive line will never be great because the Bears haven't invested in it through the draft.

That's why, no matter how much tweaking or shuffling the Bears do, the end product will remain the same: a mediocre offensive line.

When there's no young talent to develop, you have to rely on free-agency for stop-gap solutions such as left tackle Orlando Pace, a future Hall of Famer who is now just a place-holder until someone better is either developed (maybe Williams) or drafted.

The Bears used the same formula with better success when they picked up seven-time Pro Bowl guard Ruben Brown in 2005, after he was cast aside by the Bills. They hit the jackpot with Brown, getting four mostly solid years from another potential Hall of Famer.

Right guard Robert Garza has been another effective free-agent pickup, starting 55 straight games. But where is the young talent?

While Brown was, and Garza still is, holding down the fort, 2002 third-round pick Terrence Metcalf never developed. Neither did afterthought picks such as Bryan Anderson, a seventh-rounder in 2003, or Tyler Reed, a sixth-rounder 2006. Did anyone expect seventh-rounders Aaron Brandt (2007), Chester Adams and Kirk Barton (2008) to be the answer?

That's not to condemn Angelo's drafting record. The team's top five receivers - Devin Hester, Earl Bennett, Matt Forte, Johnny Knox and Greg Olsen - are all Angelo draft picks.

So are six of the top seven tacklers: Lance Briggs, Danieal Manning, Al Afalava, Charles Tillman, Zack Bowman, Alex Brown, Tommie Harris and Marcus Harrison.

But, somehow, the offensive line has been forgotten and this year's team is paying the price.

The last time the Bears selected an impact offensive lineman was way back in 1998, when Mark Hatley was running the draft and struck gold with center Olin Kreutz in the third round.

But Kreutz is 32 and in his 12th season, Garza is 30 and in his ninth season, and 13-year veteran Pace will be 34 in less than two weeks.

It's well past the time for young reinforcements on the offensive line.

Recent Bears drafts of o-linemen
Year Player Round Total picks
2009 Lance Louis 7 9
2008 C. Williams 1 7
2008 C. Adams 7 7
2008 Kirk Barton 7 7
2007 J. Beekman 4 9
2007 Aaron Brandt 7 9
2006 Tyler Reed 6 7
2005 None N/A 6
2004 None N/A 8
2003 B. Anderson 7 12