Chicago Bears  

 

Bears stockpiling weapons, but can offensive line hold up?

Nam Y. Huh/AP
Jay Cutler took a beating last season, as the Bears gave up 49 sacks -- the fifth-highest total in the league.

A wide receiver who has averaged 95 catches per year over the past five seasons ... acquired for two third-round picks. The best free-agent running back plucked off the market ... for one-third the guaranteed money as players of similar skill.

Phil Emery, how do you do?

What a couple of weeks it's been for the new Chicago Bears GM. Talk about making your presence felt.

Thursday's signing of Michael Bush raised a few eyebrows around the league, most notably Matt Forte's. So what does that mean for Forte, the Bears and the rest of the NFC?

A lot. Sort of.

There's no question the Giants, Packers and 49ers have company. Many felt the Bears were primed to make a deep playoff run last season before Jay Cutler hurt his thumb. That was without a big-time receiver. Enter Brandon Marshall. And that was with Marion Barber as a second option, not Bush, who gained 977 yards last season, despite starting only nine games. The latter gives Chicago an opportunity to play power, downhill football, with play-action opportunities all over the place. And most of Cutler's play-action shots will go one place: Marshall.

That's all fine and good, providing the bane of every Bears fan's existence can hold up its end of the bargain. There's no debate, no question, no nothin' to counter the fact that the offensive line has held this organization back for years. While you can blame former GM Jerry Angelo for avoiding linemen in the draft like they were poison sumac -- taking just one with a high pick from 2003 to 2010 -- that finally changed last year. Unfortunately, first-round tackle Gabe Carimi was lost for the season in Week 2.

Carimi's injury left a line devoid of good enough players, scrambling to master Mike Martz's 40-some-odd protection schemes. That didn't happen early on, particularly in a frustrating Monday night loss in Detroit.

With Carimi healthy, and if he's more than just potential, things should be better. But that doesn't change the fact that fellow tackle J'Marcus Webb gave up the most sacks in the NFL with 14. Like Carimi, he's young, but that doesn't change the fact that he stunk. Lance Louis gave up 10 sacks filling in for Carimi at tackle, but he might start at guard this season. Who knows if that's a good thing. Left guard Chris Williams could afford to play better. The jury is out on guard Chris Spencer, who played well once he covered for Louis (who was filling in for Carimi). Confused yet?

Here's the bottom line: Right now, the team can hang its hat on one guy up front ... center Roberto Garza.

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All of this could point to the Bears taking an offensive lineman in the first round. Tackle Riley Reiff from Iowa is an option. If Stanford guard David DeCastro is sitting there when the Bears pick 19th overall, Emery might pull the trigger, even with multiple guards on his roster. (DeCastro is that highly regarded.) Drafting a center would allow the team to move Garza to guard, his original position.

No matter what they do, an infusion of talent (and of course, better play) is what the line needs. And this ultimately will make the moves for Marshall and Bush more valuable. If newly promoted offensive coordinator Mike Tice, who served as the Bears' offensive line coach the last two seasons, can simplify things for his front five, then the newest skill players should reap the rewards.

Which brings us to old reliable, Matt Forte. His presence -- despite unhappiness with his contract and Bush's arrival -- still makes the whole thing go. He's the queen on the chessboard ... the modern day Priest Holmes or Marshall Faulk who can line up outside, be a large factor in the screen game and play a traditional halfback. It's just that now teams will also have to prepare for those one or two series a half when the Bears play power football with Bush. The two-back system worked in Oakland. It even worked when it became a one-back committee, (i.e. when Darren McFadden couldn't stay healthy).

The Bears experienced life without Forte down the stretch last season. And while Marion Barber was serviceable, he was an older, less talented version of Bush. Simply put, signing Bush was a smooth move by Emery, whether he has Forte on board or not (a potential holdout looms). Smooth, like the Marshall trade 10 days ago.

In two short months, Emery is excelling at his job. Now, if the Bears' offensive line can follow suit, look out.

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @Harrison_NFL

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