Bears GM Phil Emery decided to make this horrendous line one of his main focuses during the offseason by adding three potential starters: left tackle Jermon Bushrod and left guard Matt Slauson were added through free agency, while offensive guard/offensive tackle Kyle Long was taken with the team’s first-round selection.
The acquisitions did not stop there, though. Emery also added veterans offensive guard Eben Britton, and also retained offensive tackle Jonathan Scott. Not only did Emery bring in three starting-caliber lineman, he also brought in more competition.
Another big addition that has not been as publicized as it should have is new offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Aaron Kromer, who has been known for being a successful line coach with the New Orleans Saints and may also be a big reason for bringing in Bushrod. Kromer has led his linemen to 13 Pro Bowl appearances in a five-year period.
With new head coach Marc Trestman‘s fast paced West Coast offense intact, quarterback Jay Cutler should not only stay on his feet more, but actually have time to look for different receivers. Last year, the Bears kept nine lineman on their roster, and I would not expect that to change. This will leave seven players out of the mix on the 53-man roster.
2013 may be the strongest the Bears have been at the offensive tackle position since the John Tait and Ruben Brown era.
Cutler has been in need of a Pro Bowl-caliber left tackle since he came to Chicago, and now he has that in Jermon Bushrod. With Bushrod taking over at left tackle, J’Marcus Webb is now projected to start at right tackle, which is what he played in college and better suited for. Webb is all but locked in on the right side, but veteran Jonathan Scott and 2013 5th round pick Jordan Mills will be the challengers to slide in and start the season.
Scott was better than a struggling Gabe Carimi in a stint last year on the right side, but who wasn’t? Mills looks like a good project and long-term option for Kromer and Trestman, but looks too raw to step in and start right away. Also competing for roster spots are Cory Brandon, A.J. Lindeman and possibly the versatile Eben Britton.
“Versatility” is the key word when speaking about the Bears’ interior lineman this year. With Roberto Garza penciled in at center, Matt Slauson at left guard and a very raw rookie in Kyle Long rounding the interior out at right guard, there does not seem to be much of a competition for starting positions.
But don’t pencil in that depth chart just yet. Garza and Slauson are locked in, but Long is still very new to the position of an offensive lineman. During the first few days of training camp, Trestman has rotated in Long and second-year undrafted free agent James Brown, who is also versatile and can either be a good swing tackle or possible starting guard, but looks to challenge to be a starting guard come Week 1.
Offensive guard/center Edwin Williams is also too valuable not to keep on the roster. Williams has been great in his limited chances at both guard and center, but would be the starting center if Garza struggles or goes down with an injury.
Rounding out the last of the possible candidates are Eben Britton, P.J. Lonergan, Derek Dennis and Taylor Boggs. Baring injury, guard and center are pretty well set, though look for Britton to be the dark horse to making the squad.
2013 will mark the best competition the Bears have seen at offensive line in many years. When it is all said and done, most answers are clear, but injury and camp surprises can change things in a hurry.
Projected starters (left to right): Bushrod, Slauson, Garza, Long, Webb.
Projected depth: Brown, Mills, Williams, Scott.