3:44 PM EDT, August 9, 2011
J’Marcus Webb has yet to play 16 NFL games. He’s the Bears’ starting left offensive tackle.
Chris Williams has played enough games for me to think he’s a bust. He’s the Bears’ starting left guard.
Roberto Garza has played a career at guard, but now he’s the Bears’ starting center.
Lance Louis has played four pro games, not zero as I wrote erroneously earlier. He's the Bears' starting right guard.
Gabe Carimi has never even been through an NFL training camp, so forget about taking an actual pro snap. He’s the Bears’ starting right tackle.
That’s Mike Tice’s offensive line. That’s the foundation of the protection for a quarterback coming off a knee injury.
“Unless they falter,’’ Tice said, “that’s who’s opening the season against Atlanta.’’
And if Tice is wrong, if they falter, Jay Cutler might not be upright to finish August.
Which makes you wonder why Tice would want to wipe out competition in training camp.
One way to interpret Tice’s statement is that he has a first string and if all five play well, they’ll keep their spots. Just like everywhere else.
But Tice didn’t say it like everywhere else. He didn’t say he has five starters but they’re being pushed, which creates fear and provides motivation, two of any coach’s four major food groups. That sends the message that there’s competition.
But Tice didn’t send that message. In fact, Tice sent the opposite message. He stated that “there’s no competition.’’ Who eliminates competition in training camp?
Especially when Williams is involved.
And a rookie on one end.
And another inexperienced player next to him.
Tice calls that his starting right side. Clay Matthews Jr. and Ndamukong Suh call it the express lane.
This is a crazy statement. Tice made his declaration sternly and with a hint of the way Lovie Smith can wag the big verbal finger.
But Tice isn’t crazy. Mike Martz is crazy. Martz is crazy stubborn with his offense, or maybe crazy delusional that it can work here despite the Bears’ many wrong or missing parts.
Tice, though, has always seemed like a realist. Honest, or as honest as coaches feel they’re allowed to be. So, what’s Tice’s motive for essentially eliminating conventional coaching motivation?
It appears to be force-fed unity and continuity. Find your five starters RIGHT NOW, name them, let them know you believe in them as a line, which is a team within a team and requires similar bonding, and let them know everybody is relying on them.
On the surface, Tice’s idea makes a lot of sense after last year’s crimes against Cutler. The Bears had five different starting lineups in the first eight games last season, Cutler suffered a concussion and missed a game, the playcalling was insane bordering on indictment for manslaughter.
In the second half of the season, the Bears named their five linemen and stuck with them, and look at that: After aliens snatched Martz’s brain and replaced it with a balanced offense, the sacks were cut in half and the Bears won five in a row and seven of eight. So, continuity worked last season. All the way to the NFC Championship Game, continuity worked.
But, oops, there’s a problem. When last we saw the Bears play for real, they opened the NFC Championship Game left-to-right with Frank Omiyale, Williams, Olin Kreutz, Garza and Webb.
Omiyale is a backup now, Kreutz is famously gone, Garza and Webb moved to their left, which leaves only Williams in the position he played last season.
Wait, you’re kidding: Continuity hanging on the Bears’ worst lineman?
Williams, of course, has experience, which puts him ahead of the right side of the line of Louis and Carimi, so it might sound harsh to call him the worst lineman, but in getting that experience, Williams also provided evidence of how bad he is.
The bad you know, apparently, is the bad you can coach. This is Tice’s version of a hurry-up offense for the offensive line, which also seems to be a function of the lockout that wiped out minicamps and offseason team activities that traditionally give coaches several chances to evaluate players and units.
So, Tice, a big guy with a big voice, is backing his guys in a big way. Until this weekend, perhaps, when one lineman likely will “falter.’’ At least one.
I’m taking Williams in the “Falter Pool,’’ and then Louis moves to left guard, Garza goes back to right guard, and free-agent Chris Spencer becomes the center. What, you thought the Bears spent millions on a replacement for Kreutz to serve as a backup?
And then Tice will say his new group will start in the opener against Atlanta, unless of course one of them falters. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Which brings us to one of the biggest risks in Tice’s play here. If the line “falters,’’ if Cutler gets hurt again, Tice will get torched for eliminating the backups’ motivation and the starters’ fear. It will appear as though Tice gambled and lost. I don’t expect that it would cost Tice his job, but I suspect it would spark a return to what we in my country call “competition.’’
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