Bears Notebook: Mike Tice picks his starting five

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Rookie Gabe Carimi will start at right tackle and should significantly help the run game.
Rookie Gabe Carimi will start at right tackle and should significantly help the run game.

Bears offensive line coach Mike Tice made headlines on Sunday when he declared that the current five offensive linemen running with the first team in practice — from left to right: J’Marcus Webb, Chris Williams, Roberto Garza, Lance Louis, and Gabe Carimi — will be the team’s starting offensive line for the regular season opener against Atlanta.

When pressed further, Tice repeated himself and was adamant that there was no competition and that the only way it would change is if they faltered or that “something proves me I’m wrong.”

It’s a bit curious that the Bears are paying free agent acquisition Chris Spencer starter’s money and yet he’ll begin the season on the bench. Given the number of moves the Bears made along the offensive line last season, I’d say that it’s more than likely that Spencer will see action at some point. If Garza does a good job at center, it’s possible that Spencer could play some guard.

All of this is a moot point, of course, if the Bears are able to protect Cutler and create running lanes for Matt Forte. The former is still a big question mark, but the latter figures to be an upgrade from a year ago, especially with the addition of the rookie Carimi, who is a stout run blocker.

Bears have a good depth problem at receiver

For the first time in many years, it’s safe to say the wide receiver position is not one of the Bears’ biggest problems. In fact, it can be argued that for Mike Martz’s offense, the receiver position could be a strength.

It remains to be seen if Roy Williams can have a resurrection of sorts with his former coach in Detroit, but he still has great talent at this point in his career and Cutler will be targeting him likely more than any other receiver.

The Bears have two speedsters in Devin Hester and Johnny Knox and a player with reliable hands in Earl Bennett. Those four are all but guaranteed to make the final roster. Free agent Sam Hurd, brought on board for his special teams ability as well as his size on offense, is likely to be the fifth receiver. That leaves a handful of players vying for a sixth roster spot, if the Bears decide to keep that many. Last year, they only kept five but they did keep six in 2009. If the Bears do decide to spend an extra roster spot on the receiver position, it’ll be because rookie free agent Dane Sanzenbacher has played too well and shows too much promise to justify letting him go.

Sanzenbacher will not make it to the Bears’ practice squad if he gets released. It was reported that as many as 25 teams showed interest in signing him before he ultimately chose the Bears, so somebody will be waiting to scoop him up if he doesn’t make the final cut.

Safety of playing surface an overstatement by Bears brass

I promised myself I would avoid bringing up what happened Friday night when the Family Night practice was cancelled because the sod at Soldier Field was separating and was declared unsafe for the players. But I can’t stomach the excuses from the Bears’ front office anymore.

The Bears claim they have done extensive research on injuries occurring on natural grass versus those on an artificial surface, and I’ll take their word for it that natural grass has yielded fewer injuries. But I have a hard time believing that the number of injuries between the two surfaces are that far apart.

Forget the fact that the Bears are a fast team whose offense and defense both rely on team speed. Nevermind that re-sodding the field is difficult to do in late autumn/early winter due to the frigid weather conditions. A more compelling argument to be made to switch to FieldTurf is that the number of injuries on that particular surface is not substantially larger than natural grass.

In addition, I don’t know that whatever research the Bears are doing applies to Soldier Field because the Soldier Field surface is unsafe, anyway, due to the inability to maintain healthy grass in a northern climate in November and December. A quick survey of the terrain during any late-season home game will show clumps of sod scattered all over the field.

I wonder how many injuries occur on “unnatural grass,” because that’s exactly what I’d deem the Soldier Field sod to be.

If many high schools and colleges — let alone NFL teams — around the country can install FieldTurf, I don’t see why the Bears can’t.

I’ve heard rumors that the Bears may have a hidden agenda for keeping the sod, such as a family member or friend’s business that is making money from selling them the grass. I at first brushed that off as a conspiracy theory, but the more that the Bears feed us lies about player safety, the more I’m starting to believe such accusations.

Bears in driver’s seat in Forte contract negotiations

In what has been a cordial set of contract negotiations up to this point, the Bears and Matt Forte’s agent continue to talk about an extension for the fourth-year back. As of now, there are no problems because Forte reported to camp on time and is fulfilling his current contractual obligations. But if the process drags on throughout the preseason, and if Forte sits out preseason games to avoid injury, as he suggested he might, then this issue could become a distraction.

If I was Forte, I wouldn’t want to play on the Bears’ crappy surface, either. He’s making around a half-million dollars this season and if he blows out a knee or suffers any type of significant injury, he won’t get his big payday and won’t be able to retire comfortably.

But Forte has to realize he’s under contract and has an obligation to play to the best of his ability. This whole idea of renegotiating a contract has become too much common practice. What started out as a franchise choosing to reward a player for his excellent service to the team has turned into a player’s choice to hold that franchise hostage and choose not to uphold his end of the deal he originally signed.

Regardless, the Bears hold the upper hand here. They have two solid backs in Chester Taylor and Marion Barber — neither one with the same versatility that Forte has but both capable of helping the Bears win games — and Forte needs to play in order to show the Bears, or any other team in the league, that he deserves that new contract. If he were to sit out or not put forth full effort, he would not get a significant contract offer from any team next year and the Bears could sign him at a cheaper price.

Hayden would upgrade secondary

Former Colts cornerback Kelvin Hayden, who had an interception return for a touchdown against the Bears in Super Bowl XLI, reportedly met with the team on Monday. Hayden signed a big contract extension with the Colts in 2009, when the Bears had interest in signing him. He was injured last season and the Colts parted ways with him due to his big contract.

Hayden still has value at this point in his career. Says current Bears cornerback Tim Jennings, a teammate of Hayden’s in Indianapolis: “He’s a ‘ballaholic.’ The thing about it is, he’ll intercept it, and the thing on his mind is going to score.”

Not only does Hayden have a nose for the football, but he has good size at 6 feet and 195 pounds. If Hayden — who is receiving interest from a handful of other teams — follows in the footsteps of other free agents the Bears have signed and accepts less money to play in a system he’s familiar with, he can only help improve a Bears secondary that many consider to be weak.

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