BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Chicago Bears offensive-line coach Mike Tice is preparing to open the regular season on Sept. 11 against the Atlanta Falcons with veteran Roberto Garza at center, Lance Louis at right guard, rookie Gabe Carimi at right tackle, Chris Williams at left guard and J'Marcus Webb at left tackle.
"Let's get something straight, I have five starting linemen right now," Tice said Sunday night. "Unless the five starting linemen falter, there are no changes. There is not a competition, so don't write that. Don't write that, because whoever is writing that is wrong. We have five guys in there and they are the starters. If they falter in games, then we'll have to create some type of competition and movement. Roberto Garza is one of our top five linemen, he's going to be on the field at the end of the day. We've identified that. But there is no competition, so I don't know if I'd write that."
Because the Bears were unable to re-sign six-time Pro Bowler Olin Kreutz, Garza has taken all the first-team reps at center since the club reported to camp in late July. The 11-year veteran has 116 career starts under his belt, but has played almost exclusively at guard since he entered the NFL as a fourth-round draft choice of the Falcons in 2001. To further complicate matters, the NFL lockout forced teams to cancel official offseason workouts, reducing the amount of time Garza has had to work with quarterback Jay Cutler.
But according to Tice, Garza and Cutler have managed to get on the same page despite a limited amount of practice time.
'We've had one mishandled snap, one bad snap, it might have been yesterday, I can't remember, I've been here 13 days and they're all running together. ... I didn't even know today was Sunday," Tice said. "They're doing good with their exchanges, they're doing good with the communication. There is some anxiety there with Roberto, he's only started one game at center in his career. At first, I don't know if he was totally embracing it, but he's such a team player, he's going to do what we ask him to do. I think there is a chemistry. He doesn't have the awareness and those types of things that an Olin Kreutz had, but he's a veteran guy who's been around a long time and knows football."
Tice, however, didn't close the door on recently signed center Chris Spencer eventually working his way into the starting lineup. Spencer, a former 2005 first-round pick of the Seattle Seahawks, started 70 games in six years for the Seahawks at multiple positions.
"Chris Spencer is coming along nicely," Tice said. "I think what we'll do when we get through that first game is evaluate that first game and see if we need to split some reps with Roberto and Spencer. But right now the way things are going and the way they are improving every day, I'm not really in the [mindset] that I need to change anything right now."
The Bears' offensive line in 2010, Tice's first year in Chicago, went through multiple changes before eventually settling on a starting combination by the eighth game of the regular season. Tice is hoping to avoid that same type of confusion this upcoming fall.
"We're light years ahead of where we were at last year," Tice said. "Last year we were moving guys around trying to figure out who should be at what position. This year we're getting great work, we have the same five guys in there and we're getting better every day. Every day on film they're doing a lot more good than they are doing bad, and that is really encouraging, because I don't really know that in any point in camp last year we had that."
Jeff Dickerson covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000.