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Jay Cutler can only laugh, hope Bears' O-line improves

The question was simple and gets right to the heart of whether or not the Chicago Bears are Super Bowl contenders: Will the team's pass protection improve now that former offensive line coach Mike Tice was promoted to offensive coordinator?

First, he laughed. Then he said, "Hope so."

As if he realized he was being too honest, Cutler quickly added to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune: "It's going to. It will. We're headed in the right direction. I know that."

Chicago's pass protection has been a joke for too long. Cutler played out of his mind for most of last season to overcome his total lack of protection. A strong argument can be made Cutler was outplaying Eli Manning in the Super Bowl champion's best year. But the Bears can't count on Cutler overcoming that protection and staying healthy if the line doesn't improve.

The Bears have done next to nothing to address this issue this offseason except for get rid of Mike Martz. Cutler can only hope that's enough.

The team cut Frank Omiyale and hasn't signed any linemen in free agency. They hope last year's first-round draft pick, Gabe Carimi, stays healthy in 2012. Guard Chris Williams also is coming back from injury and nearly every other Bears offensive linemen except center Roberto Garza could be shifted around. New general manager Phil Emery said the Bears were "very encouraged" with the team's talent on the line.

"I don't want to picture it that we are looking for a left tackle," coach Lovie Smith said this offseason. "We feel comfortable with (J'Marcus Webb and Carimi). We like (what) we have right now for what we are going to do with them."

The team won't leave just five men in to block as often with Martz gone. We probably won't see many seven-step drops. A draft pick is likely to be added to the mix, but the Bears are counting on continuity to carry them through.

Cutler is squarely in his prime. The team's defense is aging, and Smith is annually on the hot seat.

This is a "win-now" year for the Bears, and they are gambling that more of the same will be enough on the offensive line.

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