It took the Bears just more than a week of training camp to name the starting offensive line.
We will see if one exhibition game is all it takes to send the coaching staff back to the drawing board.
There probably will not be a knee-jerk reaction after Saturday's 10-3 victory over the Bills at Soldier Field. To be clear, it wasn't a nine-sack, one-half meltdown like the trip to the Meadowlands last October. But it's apparent more work is needed as the line resembled the leaky unit that allowed an NFL-high 56 sacks a season ago.
The Bears return for one more week of training camp at Olivet Nazarene with practice resuming Monday, and there are eight days before they visit the Giants on Aug. 22. Maybe plans won't be re-drawn immediately, but it can't come as a complete surprise the unit struggled from the outset, allowing three sacks in the first two offensive possessions and four in a half of action.
"It was good for the line to see some different fronts and go against some different guys," quarterback Jay Cutler said. "We have to go back and look at the film and see what we did good, see what we did bad and learn from it."
The Bears knew they had to make significant improvement but the only additions were the selection of Gabe Carimi, a first-round draft pick, and the signing of Chris Spencer, at this point a well-paid backup interior lineman. The club made a hard run at the Steelers' Willie Colon but couldn't land him. Offensive line coach Mike Tice didn't have an offseason to work with the unit and left guard Chris Williams is the only player in the same position he ended last season.
New left tackle J'Marcus Webb, moved over from right tackle, was overwhelmed by Shawne Merriman, allowing one sack and a pressure that created a sack for Marcell Dareus on a play in which Webb was called for holding. Merriman, attempting to return to the form he had with the Chargers as one of the league's elite pass rushers, finished with two sacks.
On the first five combined dropbacks for Cutler, who played only one series, and backup Caleb Hanie, there were three sacks, and Cutler was flushed out of the pocket on a scramble. The starting line settled down, playing the entire first half as offensive coordinator Mike Martz said the team would seek rhythm. But the Bears had only 78 total yards at halftime and when they got rolling with help from some hard running by new back Marion Barber, the Bills starters were on the sideline. A fourth sack came just before halftime.
"I liked the stuff we did on the scoring drive," coach Lovie Smith said. "We're pleased but we have a long way to go."
Cutler played only six snaps, completing a screen pass to running back Matt Forte and handing off once to Devin Hester and twice to Chester Taylor. Forte did not have a rushing attempt, perhaps a compromise for a player concerned about his health during ongoing contract negotiations.
Barber looks like a fine addition as he carried seven times for 45 yards, going up the middle for 12 yards on a draw and making it around the left end for an 11-yard gain. Run blocking wasn't an issue for the line, and the Bears went ahead 7-3 early in the second quarter on Hanie's 4-yard run.
On defense, newcomer Amobi Okoye made an immediate impact with two sacks and fellow tackle Henry Melton made some plays early. Second-year safety Major Wright was also quite active. The Bears could be significantly better on the interior of the line this season now that they've moved past the Tommie Harris era.
"We need to get better," middle linebacker Brian Urlacher said. "That's all there is to it. We're a defensive team and we'll get better every week.
"After a long layoff it's fun to get back out there and play football again."
Third running back Kahlil Bell also ran hard with a 27-yard run in the fourth quarter, helping set up a 45-yard field goal by Robbie Gould with 5:52 remaining. Bell finished with 73 yards on 13 carries. Gould missed two field goals, including a 34-yarder.
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