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Bears O-line coach Tice bullish on Garza as team's next center

When the Chicago Bears decided to part ways with center Olin Kreutz, his replacement seemed certain when they signed former Seattle center Chris Spencer.

However, Bears right guard Roberto Garza has picked up the center position well enough to make coaches feel he can remain there all season. When the team released its first official depth chart Wednesday, Garza was listed as first-team center and has the stamp of approval of the coaching staff.

"Olin has always been the guy and I've always sat back and watched what he's done, and I'm trying to do things the way he's done by always trying to make the guys around you better," said Garza, who hasn't started at center since he did it for the Atlanta Falcons in the final game of the 2001 season.

The line was not the only surprise: The depth chart also has veteran wide receiver Roy Williams ahead of Johnny Knox after a week of practices. But it is up front where the Bears had some of the biggest questions last season, giving up a league-worst 56 sacks -- all but four of them involving quarterback Jay Cutler.

Offensive line coach Mike Tice set his starting line early so it can gel as a unit, even though it doesn't include Spencer, who is listed as backup center.

If the line remains as it now is set, the opening day starting offensive line will have only one player at the same position where he finished last season. Besides Garza, Lance Louis will be at right guard, last year's right tackle J'Marcus Webb will be at left tackle, rookie Gabe Carimi will be at right tackle, Lance Louis will be right guard, and Chris Williams will be left guard.

Between them, they have 18 NFL starts at their current positions, including 13 last year by Williams at left guard -- and he was drafted in 2008 to be a tackle.

"I have five guys in there starting," Tice said. "Unless they falter, that's the five guys that are opening the season against Atlanta. Right now, I'm not seeing those guys falter. What I'm seeing right now is improvement every day. If something happens in the (preseason opener Saturday) against Buffalo, if someone doesn't step up to the plate because of the added pressure of a game, then maybe we look at some things.

"Right now, I don't see that and I don't feel that."

Knox caught more touchdown passes (10) and gained more yards receiving (1,487) than any Bears wide receiver over the past two seasons. However, Knox found himself second on the team's first official depth chart behind the 6-foot-3 Williams, who signed as a free agent after being let go by Dallas.

"Johnny is very, very talented," offensive coordinator Mike Martz said. "He's very young and he's still learning how to play. Guys like Johnny have just got to learn to be consistent."

The other big surprise was at running back, where Chester Taylor remained the No. 2 back behind starter Matt Forte, while recently signed Marion Barber was still listed as the third back.

"I think the system is really different to what he is used to," Martz said of Barber. "I think the (pass) protections are really different and the runs are a little bit different. He's getting used to it."

Notes: The Bears continued to experience strange field-related problems when their practice was cut short Wednesday after a power outage at Olivet Nazarene University caused the lights to go out, according to Last Friday's practice at Soldier Field was canceled due to dried-out sod.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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