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New Bears OT Pace out to prove he's healthy and still Pro Bowl-caliber

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Orlando Pace said he's feeling healthy for the first time in several years.

That's good news for the Chicago Bears.

Pace, a seven-time Pro Bowl left tackle, met with the Chicago media Wednesday at Halas Hall after signing a three-year, $15 million contract with the Bears last week. Pace quietly joined the team Thursday, the same day that quarterback Jay Cutler was traded to Chicago from Denver.

Age: 33

Height: 6-7  Weight: 325

College: Ohio State

Experience: 12 seasons

"One thing about injuries is when you're injured, you have a new desire to play football, a new love for the game, a renewed love for the game," said Pace, whom the St. Louis Rams waived to clear salary-cap room earlier this offseason. "So I'm really excited to be here because I think the Bears offer different challenges for myself also. So I think it'll be good for me and my career."

Pace, 33, missed eight games in 2006 after tearing his left tricep and 15 games in 2007 with a torn right labrum and rotator cuff. Last season, he sat out two games because of a sprained knee.

"When you're released as a player, you want to go out and prove that you can still do it, and I think that was my situation," Pace said. "I wanted to come out here and prove that I can still play at a high level and do it for years and without any setbacks. So I'm excited about the opportunity."

Pace said his high comfort level is because of his past relationships with coach Lovie Smith and several former Bears offensive linemen. Smith served as the Rams' defensive coordinator from 2001 to 2003, and Pace also played at Ohio State in 1995 when Smith was an assistant there.

"During Lovie's time in St. Louis, he would come over, and before practice, he would kind of get stuff going between myself and the defensive linemen," Pace recalled. "He'd say, 'Yeah, this guy's going to do this to you today, or this guy's gonna do that to you today.'"

The relationship helped Pace sign with the Bears rather than the Baltimore Ravens.

"(The Ravens) did a great job recruiting me and those type of things, but just knowing Lovie from years back, I think it made the transition easy, made me feel more comfortable," Pace said.

Pace likely would have moved to right tackle with the Ravens, but the Bears were willing to shuffle 2008 first-round draft pick Chris Williams there to accommodate the 12-year NFL veteran.

Ready to contend's Vic Carucci says the Bears' addition of QB Jay Cutler in a trade and OT Orlando Pace in free agency strengthens the team's bid to win the

NFC North next season. **More ...**

"I'm comfortable playing left tackle, and right tackle would have been a stretch for me," Pace said. "But just in speaking with Lovie and the coaches, they felt that that (playing left tackle) was better for me. That made Chicago even more of a sweeter deal for me."

Pace, who blocked for quarterbacks Kurt Warner and Marc Bulger on St. Louis' artificial turf, believes playing on a grass surface at Chicago's Soldier Field can lengthen his career, and he envisions success for the Bears after Cutler's arrival.

"I've played with some really great quarterbacks, and I've played with some, not to slight anybody, but I think there's a difference in your team, just the leadership," Pace said. "And if (Cutler) can get the ball out, and if the offensive line can protect him, I think he'll be fine, he'll be great."

Pace already is working on another way to make Cutler better. The Bears are in the market for a wide receiver, and the Rams waived Pace's former teammate, Torry Holt, who has visited the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans.

"He was probably in my house a few days before I came here," Pace said of Holt. "I think he's just out searching (for a team). I'm probably recruiting here in Chicago, and hopefully, it works out."

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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