I have to be honest; I really wanted to write my second article about the receiving core led by Brandon Marshall as a follow-up to my Jay Cutler piece yesterday.
From a personnel standpoint, the second most important topic to discuss as the Bears open camp this year isn’t a sexy one. It isn’t one that can be justified by stats, unreal highlight tapes, or an abundance of insanely hot player housewives to talk about and share on social media.
No, it can’t be about any of those because the second most important topic to discuss as the Bears open camp today is the offensive line.
The blanket of optimism that every fan base feels around this time is the opportunity to start over and start fresh from last year. Unless you are a Ravens’ fan then your team didn’t have the season that you were hoping for.
Last year, we Bears fans were obsessed with the addition of Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey, but failed to acknowledge any lineman in the draft or anyone significant in free agency. For whatever reason, Uncle Phil (Emery) had his reasons and elected not to add.
This ultimately led to the 2013 demise of the Chicago Bears. It was the main reason for the Cutler on Webb shove, the inability to establish any run game, the lack of confidence displayed by Cutler in the pocket (which I believe leads to any quarterbacks lack of success) and ultimately the wheels falling off of the 2013 season after a 7-1 start.
Having played the offensive line in high school for two years (I’m a quick study, lay off of me for not having significant experience), I am naturally always focused on the line. It’s near and dear to my heart and the foundation of what I believe to be successful football. If you have a good line, that remains intact all season and helps move the trenches, it does a few things: It makes all of your skill position players look better, keeps the offensive on the field longer and in-turn keeps your defense off the field longer.
If you look carefully into that, it solves the answer to the time of possession problem, defensive fatigue and lack of opportunities for stats in your offense; three variables essential for success in the NFL.
Don’t believe me? Go look up Jim Miller, Marty Booker and Anthony Thomas career’s as Bears when the line led by Big Cat Williams started all 16 regular season games.
Still don’t believe me? Go look at the line the Bears had when they went to the Super Bowl in 2007 under Rex Grossman, Thomas Jones/Cedric Benson & Mushin Muhammad.
It’s a fact that a great offensive line yields superior results in the form of wins and pro-bowlers. With that, the Bears significantly increased their help on the offensive trenches and here’s why:
1) Adding Significant Veteran Lineman
2) Drafting Kyle Long
3) All of the additions are guys who want to work
1) Adding significant veterans in Jermond Bushrod, Matt Slauson & Martellus “Martysaurus Rex” Bennett
First let’s start with the premier addition to the line in Bushrod.
Bushrod brings a Super Bowl ring and is a smart, conservative signing who has a legitimate shot to anchor our line and take himself to his third pro bowl. Bushrod earned his shot in New Orleans when Jamaal Brown went down with an injury in 2011 and he filled in magically. Hardly the largest tackle in the league at 6’5’’ 315, Bushrod fills in best with the Bears from the angle that he is dependable (his pro bowls back it up). He is smart and what I think is most important is that he is coming to Chicago along with his former Offensive Coordinator Aaron Kromer. The latter implies he will have a much easier time in picking up this system than any other signing as consistency is always important.
Next, Slauson brings exactly what the Bears need and what most fans don’t comprehend yet; a quiet, under-the-radar signing this offseason that was shadowed by the additions of Bushrod & Bennett.
Last year the Bears guards were a combination of Lance Louis, James Brown (not the singer), Gabe “Don’t include the Bear anymore in my nickname” Carimi and a couple of other swinging gates. As a guard you are the moving piece on the line responsible for picking up blitzing linebackers, stunting defensive lineman and most importantly you must be agile enough to pull and create a hole for your running back.
Slauson has experience in not only injuring elite linebackers (ask Brian Cushing’s ACL), but also he brings the blue-collar competitor that you love in your lineman. As an original 6th round pick, he has had to battle his entire career and he has won out those battles. Slauson will immediately step in as the team’s Left Guard next to Bushrod and Garza, solidifying Jay’s blind slide (thank you lord).
Last is the addition of my newest favorite Bear in the “Black Unicorn”, Martellus Bennett. Besides going on a tangent about Bennett’s amazing social media presence, Bennett showed the NFL last year he can block and catch. Part of the biggest reason why Bennett was added to the organization this year was for his size and ability to solidify the end of the line which he will be asked to do in this new west coast system.
2. Drafting Kyle Long will pay off
Most Bears fans were underwhelmed with the drafting of Kyle Long with the 20th pick. It was clear that Uncle Phil wanted to use his first round pick on the O-Line this year but what was unforeseen about the #20 pick was that Bears fans targeted who would already be off the board in this line-friendly draft.
Unlike most, I actually really like the Long signing for a few reasons:
–He’s got the football pedigree: His dad is Howie Long (NFL Hall of Famer) and his brother is Chris Long (former #2 pick in the draft and defensive end). So by my count this makes him the third NFL player of his immediate family (wish you had those jeans, don’t ya)
–He’s a freak athlete: He was originally drafted to play baseball for the Chicago White Sox in 2008. He did not sign so he chose to play football at Florida State. After taking the phrase “that grades don’t mean anything to the college athlete” to the fullest, he failed out of FSU, transferred around a bit to where he found himself apart of Chip Kelly’s Oregon Ducks in which he started 10 out of 12 games. After a lackluster college football career, he still was drafted in the first round at 6’6’’ 313 pounds (same size as Bushrod essentially).
–He’s a drunk: While I cannot confirm or deny this if you look at the last two points, it’s safe to assume it. While I don’t love my athletes to be drunk while playing, I love my lineman to be drunks in their free time. It fuels the anger and gets it deep in their loins…
All in all, Kyle has a long way to go (pun intended) as a highly drafted and unproven rookie. But from everything that has been covered about the guy, he’s got the right head on his shoulders, he’s working out like he should, he gets along with his teammates and most importantly he realizes the opportunity that’s ahead of him.
I have to go by the philosophy of quiet, unsexy picks with little to no-hype around them following the draft usually work out favorably. That’s what he is
3. Last but not least, all of the new acquisitions are blue-collar workers looking for an opportunity…
…And opportunity they shall have.
Bushrod was a 4th round pick and a back-up until he got his shot in the league. Slauson was a 6th round pick and a back-up turned starter by virtue of a training camp competition. Bennett has bounced around from Dallas to New York and has been in the shadows his whole career. Long has had bumps in the road but has been given a tremendous opportunity to contribute right away.
While the pessimist would say that these guys don’t have the resume that you would want with only two pro bowl’s amongst the four of them, I take the other half of the glass and say that we are fusing four players who all share one thing in common which is to have a fair shot at proving their worth. They have the opportunity to come together as a unit to help move the sticks for the 2013 Chicago Bears and beyond.
They may not be the choice of any girls from The Hills, but there is a reason they get paid the big bucks to pork themselves up. One thing is for sure and that is Kristen Cavallari will be giving a few less massages come fall. There is a reason to actually be excited about the offensive line…
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