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Time to mix things up; time to start thinking about next year
By Bob LeGere | Daily Herald Columnist

Chicago Bears Chris Williams talks with the media after mini-camp practice at Hallas Hall in Lake Forest.

 

Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

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Published: 12/5/2009 7:27 PM

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When an NFL team is out of the playoff picture before the calendar reads, "December," it's time to start thinking about next year.

It's debatable whether the Bears' future looks any brighter than the present, which includes a 4-7 record and a noon date today with the 1-10 Rams. The Bears need a couple wins down the stretch to save jobs, but the consensus among players and coaches is that finishing strong is no guarantee of success the following year.

"I'm really not into moral victories," quarterback Jay Cutler said. "I know some people are, but it's not my thing. You'd like to be able to do some things well and see some improvement from the start of the season to the end of the season."

If next year is to be any better than this year, the Bears must accomplish a few things in these final five games.

Decide on next year's offensive line

Chris Williams is expected to get his first start at left tackle today. That's the position he was drafted to play for the next decade. If he's not better on that side than he's been at right tackle, it's going to a long decade, especially for Cutler, whose blind side and health hang in the balance.

With Williams moving from right tackle, the Bears must decide if eight-year veteran Kevin Shaffer is their right tackle of the future, or if Frank Omiyale should move from left guard to right tackle, where he is more comfortable and has more experience. Omiyale has not impressed with his play at guard, but tackle might suit him better.

If Omiyale kicks outside, a decision must be made regarding Josh Beekman. Does he get the left guard spot back, where he started four games this year, or is he groomed as the heir to Olin Kreutz's center spot?

Get Gaines Adams more snaps

The Bears gave up their highest remaining 2010 draft pick, a second-rounder, to acquire the underachieving former first-round pick. He's done nothing yet to justify that price tag - no solos, no sacks, 2 assists in six games - although he hasn't gotten much playing time.

"We started coaching him from the day that he got here (Oct.16)," coach Lovie Smith said. "He set the bar that day. I think he's improved in all areas. First you come in and you have to learn a new system, terminology and all that. Then you can start doing some football things. He can rush the passer. Eventually he'll be able to do that, but there is a transition period you go through a little bit when you're new."

Transition my eye - either you can rush the passer or you can't. Get him on the field and find out.

Throw the ball to Devin Aromashodu

Cutler likes the big target that the lanky 6-foot-2, 201-pounder presents. It's something the Bears don't have when Aromashodu isn't in the game. Getting Aromashodu on the field more could be difficult because all the wide receivers are young and need playing time to mature, but Aromashodu provides a dimension missing from the offense.

"He's a different matchup," Cutler said. "He's still got a lot of range on the deep balls, but you can do some different stuff. You can throw the ball up, you can give him some back-shoulder balls, you can get him down the seam.

"I'd love to see him out there, but those other three guys haven't done anything wrong for them to lose their spots."

Let the kids play

The first four draft picks, defensive tackle Jarron Gilbert, wide receiver Juaquin Iglesias, defensive end Henry Melton and cornerback D.J. Moore have been active for three games combined. Melton is on injured reserve, but the other three deserve a look, maybe not this week, but sometime soon.

"You have to see what you have with live bullets," defensive end Alex Brown said. "When it's the game on the line, not just preseason or OTAs. You have to see how they react in a real game. We're going to need them to help sooner rather than later."