BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Bears offensive line coach Mike Tice admits to not wanting “to play musical lines” with Jay Cutler's protection, but after the O-line gave up nine sacks Saturday against the Bills, change could be coming.
Tice maintained “it’s important to stay the course right now,” but plans to give the starting offensive line just one more opportunity -- Monday night’s game against the New York Giants -- to improve upon its four-sack outing in the preseason opener against the Buffalo Bills before changes take hold.
At this point, the only position seemingly set in stone, according to Tice, is rookie Gabe Carimi's right tackle spot.
“We have some depth and some opportunity to make moves. I think right now, we give them another week of practice,” Tice said. “Normally from the first preseason game to the second, guys make a big jump. We’re looking for that big jump. We don’t want to hit a panic button because the (sack and quarterback pressure) numbers are what they are. So we’re gonna work diligently on correcting things this week, and hopefully bounce back, have a great week of practice and carry more of those good practices over into the game.”
After breaking down tape from Saturday’s game, Tice said the Bears had “a couple of guys on the cusp of playing winning football,” and “a couple of guys that didn’t play good.”
Left tackle J'Marcus Webb and right guard Lance Louis fit the latter description. But what’s intriguing about the duo is both put together strong, consistent performances all throughout camp, only to watch that progress disintegrate Saturday under the pressure of the Bills pass rush.
Carimi, meanwhile, struggled with inconsistency during workouts, but played his best in real-game conditions. Despite Webb’s problems as Cutler’s blind side protection, Tice said he doesn’t plan to move Carimi back to the left side.
“Gabe was just the opposite (of Louis and Webb),” Tice said. “Gabe had some bad sets in here (at practice). Gabe went out and his best sets of camp were in the game. So if you look at a guy like Gabe, he’s a warrior and a player. The lights came on and he stepped up to the occasion.”
The rest of the unit needs to follow suit.
Although the organization downplays some of the offensive line’s inadequacies, it has been in loose contact with other free-agent offensive linemen behind the scenes about the possibility of adding to the position.
It’s also important to remember that players such as center Chris Spencer and guard Edwin Williams have plenty of experience as starters. Tice made it a point Monday to single out their performances against the Bills.
In six seasons with the Seattle Seahawks, Spencer logged 70 starts over 80 games, and Williams started three games last season in place of Louis.
Should the offensive line continue to falter, Spencer and Williams could receive extended looks with the first team.
Interestingly, Garza spent time Monday working at guard, which is where he might be moved if Spencer cracks the starting lineup eventually at center.
“No one’s in freak-out mode here,” Carimi said. “We want to get better and we’ve been doing a lot of good things so far.”
The problem is the ‘good things’ haven’t occurred where they count for this team most: in protection. The Bears put up the NFL’s second-best rushing performance (164 yards) of the preseason against the Bills, yet also gave up more sacks than any other team in the exhibition opener.
“Whenever you give up nine sacks, it’s not a good night for you,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said. “But a lot goes into that. Some of them were the offensive line’s fault. We held onto the ball a few times. You get to the first game, you see where you are, and you start making adjustments from there, which we’ll have to do.”
Chicago’s next matchup would seem to be the most inopportune time to play with an offensive line in disarray. When the teams met on Oct. 3 of last season, the Giants sacked Cutler 42.9 percent of the time he dropped back, eventually knocking him out of the game with a concussion after nine sacks in just one half of action.
Giants pass rusher Osi Umenyiora, who posted three sacks in last season’s matchup, is also expected to be in action against the Bears.
“What a great challenge, and what a great team to play against this week; a team that totally embarrassed us last year,” Tice said. “We should have a chip on our shoulder doing into that game.”
But will it do the Bears any good?
With the regular-season opener against the Atlanta Falcons rapidly approaching, the plan for the offensive line is to gain cohesion quickly. But by potentially changing things after Monday night’s game, Tice runs the risk of stunting the offensive line’s growth.
“Every scenario is different,” Garza said. “Everybody here is working really hard at trying to get that going as fast as possible. Obviously, we need that to happen sooner rather than later.”