In-season changes to offensive line not an option

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The Bears’ offensive line has been under heavy scrutiny all season and with just cause. What was supposed to be a vastly improved position with three new starters, including a red-shirt first round draft pick and a future Hall of Fame left tackle, has become the team’s biggest liability.

Running back Matt Forte has gone from the 11th-leading rusher as a rookie in 2008 to No. 22 thus far through 2009. It’s not as if the Bears have fallen off completely in the run game because as a team in 2008, they were ranked 24th overall whereas they’re currently ranked 26th.

The passing game, which was supposed to be much improved from last year’s No. 21 rank, is up only six slots and is ranked No. 15. The Bears’ 15 sacks allowed puts them ahead of pace to surpass last year’s 29. They have yet to face Minnesota’s Jared Allen, one of the most feared pass rushers in the league.

Everything on offense starts up front with the offensive line, so it’s difficult to evaluate how the rest of the offense is performing when there is disruption in the backfield so quickly during a play. When an offensive line doesn’t block effectively, it makes the running back look bad, the wide receivers look bad, and the quarterback look bad. Most importantly, it makes the offensive coordinator look like he doesn’t know what he’s doing, and Ron Turner has gotten roasted by fans all season — mostly unfair criticism, but some pertinent.

Many fans, and even some sports talk show hosts, have suggested making changes to the offensive line — something more dramatic than replacing Frank Omiyale with Josh Beekman at left guard. Those changes suggested include benching Orlando Pace, moving Chris Williams from right tackle to the left side and inserting either Omiyale or Kevin Shaffer in his place.

I agree with Pro Football Weekly publisher and editor Hub Arkush, who said benching the veteran Pace at this point would cause a negative reaction in the locker room and send things spiraling downward.

Williams may never be the cornerstone left tackle that many pegged him to be when he was drafted with the 14th pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. He looks to be a step slower than your ideal “blind-side” blocker should be. Still, those clamoring for the switch will say that Williams is a better pass blocker than run blocker and the left tackle is primarily the pass blocker while the right tackle should be a better run blocker, which Williams is struggling to do.

I’d be all for moving Omiyale to right tackle at some point during his tenure with the team. He’d be a much better tackle than guard because tackle is his natural position. I don’t know how much faith I have in Shaffer if the Browns cut him and replaced him with former Bear John St. Clair this off-season.

The Bears are clearly going to make changes along the offensive line — I just can’t see it happening this season, at least not while they remain in playoff contention. The NFL is not like the Madden NFL Football video game. You can’t interchange players along the offensive line and expect instant improvement or continuity. It takes a while for a player to adjust to a new position, and everything from his stance to his blocking rules changes. Plus, playing alongside a new player will alter his performance, too.

Heck, even Madden has improved its artificial intelligence and if you assign a player to a new position, his attributes and overall rating will be affected.

The best thing for the Bears to do at this point is to ride out their current line as presently constructed. They made one change at left guard and I suppose they could make a change at right tackle, but if Williams was a first round draft pick and is supposed to be a key player for years to come, it wouldn’t make sense to take him out.

If, a few weeks down the line, the Bears are either mathematically eliminated from the playoffs or are in serious doubt of advancing to the postseason, then it’d make sense to tinker with the line to see if there is any combination that will help them for the future.

But it’s what-you-see-is-what-you-get with the Bears’ offensive line at this point and the line that’s currently constructed is the one that gives them the best chance to win.

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