That is right. The Bears offensive line finished seventh overall per Football Outsiders. What impressed me the most in those numbers was their success at the power running game, meaning succeeding on third and fourth downs. Also, the line ranked second in not having the running back held for a loss.
With that good news, we will take a look at the offensive line and how it moved through the season facing a new offensive system, new faces, position changes and injuries. I think you will agree with all that the offensive line faced in 2015, they deserve major kudos for their play, as well as the coaches.
There is an old theory, that a good offense starts with the line. Without good blocking there is no running game. Without good pass protection there will be no effective passing game. It sounds simplistic, but in today’s football it has gotten lost due to the focus now on the Quarterback. Even though the Bears offensive line made its mistakes, their play directly contributed to Jay Cutler having an outstanding season.
As we look at the start of the season, the Bears offensive line looked decent enough. There was solid experience with Bushrod, Slauson, Montgomery, Long and Mills. There was concern that Mills might be the weak link, but he was going to get another shot after suffering his foot injury.
Then the unthinkable happened, right before the Green Bay game. The Bears announced the release of Mills and stated Kyle Long would be the new right tackle. It was a shock for Kyle had not played any downs at right tackle through the preseason. It also opened up the issue who would play right guard? That answer was Vlad Ducasse, a player that had not lived up to his potential with the Vikings.
While it was a surprise to see Kyle Long put in this position with little preparation. It was something the fan base had been clamoring for since Long got drafted by the Bears. In looking at Longs play through the season, it was interesting and rare opportunity to watch a player learn his position right before our eyes. All in all, Kyle rose to the occasions, showed his athletic talents and proved by seasons end he would be a capable right tackle.
As the season progressed we saw injuries change the complexion of the offensive line, to such a degree we were exposed to the future of the Bears offensive line. First off, Jermon Bushrod, got injured and was replaced by Charles Leno, a seventh round draft choice in 2014. Then Will Montgomery, who followed John Fox from Denver went down. Up till then Montgomery played well and seemed to anchor the center of the line. Matt Slauson kicked over to center and acquitted himself until the Bears activated rookie, Hroniss Grasu. Grasu was drafted in the fourth round in 2015 and was not expected to play. It was felt that Grasu would spend the season in the weight room getting built up to challenge Montgomery in 2016.
The one area that was exposed to weakness was the play at RG. Vlad Ducasse won the job but seemed to struggle. Especially in pass protection. Overall his play was too inconsistent and could be an area that the Bears look at in FA or draft. The other guard that played both RG and LG was Patrick Omameh. He came from Tampa Bay where he started 16 games at RG. He also covered LG when Slauson shuttled to center when Montgomery and Grasu missed due to injuries. Omameh overall played well and good really push Ducasse next season for the starting job at RG.
So when the season finally ended. The offensive line looked quite different. It was now Leno at LT, Slauson, Grasu, Ducasse/Omameh and Long. In grading the line, I gave it a B-. To some that might be a bit to generous. However, when you look at the two inexperienced tackles in Long and Leno. Slauson having to play two positions, the lack of dependable play at RG, they played well against top level teams.
Yes, too many penalties at the wrong time, missed opportunities that in my opinion received too much focus by the Bears media. What I see is the foundation for the future being laid out. You can see Leno and Long at tackles, Grasu at center for a long time to come (barring injuries). Eventually they will have to replace Slauson and I believe through FA or draft they will look to bring in competition at RG.
I am sure Ryan Pace will draft and maybe bring another lineman in through FA to build the depth and create competition. The good news that the building blocks for a successful offensive line is now in place.