On the NFL
3:50 PM CST, November 24, 2012
When the Bears see the Vikings offense Sunday with Matt Kalil lined up at left tackle, they have to be envious.
The rookie has been playing great ball, Pro Bowl-level ball, and it appears the Vikings have found a long-term answer at one of the NFL's most difficult positions to fill.
The Bears know just how difficult it is. They last had a Pro Bowl left tackle 25 years ago when the great Jimbo Covert played his last game at Aloha Stadium.
From all indications, the Bears will be tackle-shopping once again this offseason. Whether they go after a right or left tackle, or both, remains to be seen.
The good news is they should have options, both in free agency and the draft.
These are some free agent possibilities.
Likely unobtainable: Jake Long, Dolphins, and Ryan Clady, Broncos.
These players are among the best left tackles in the NFL and their teams probably will do whatever necessary to make sure they don't hit the free market. Even if they did become free, it would be unlikely that the Bears would be able to afford them, given their other budget issues.
Potentially obtainable left tackles: Brandon Albert, Chiefs; Sam Baker, Falcons; Jermon Bushrod, Saints.
Two of these players have ties to Bears general manager Phil Emery, as he was with the Falcons when they drafted Baker and with the Chiefs when Albert was picked.
One personnel man views Baker as a "below average" left tackle. He would be more of a stop-gap than a long-term solution.
Albert is a better player, and similar to J'Marcus Webb, except he's more experienced and consistent. The Bears would have to ask themselves if they would be better off if they continued to develop Webb rather than invest heavily in a player who Webb eventually could surpass.
Bushrod played in the Pro Bowl last year, and he has good pass protection ability, but he is not a dominant left tackle. In fact, a front office man said Bushrod had been the Saints' "weak link" on the line in the past.
Potentially obtainable right tackles: Gosder Cherilus, Lions; Phil Loadholt, Vikings; Sebastian Vollmer, Patriots.
Cherilus and Loadholt probably are having their best seasons, and the Bears could hurt a division rival by signing either.
Vollmer may be a more complete player than either with length, athleticism and toughness.
If five underclassmen declare themselves eligible, as NFL teams suspect, seven tackles look like first-round prospects.
Two of them, Texas A&M underclassman Luke Joeckel and Alabama junior D.J. Fluker, are likely top 10 picks and will be out of the Bears' range.
Five who could be are Central Michigan's Eric Fisher, Syracuse junior Justin Pugh, Michigan junior Taylor Lewan, Texas A&M junior Jake Matthews and Oklahoma's Lane Johnson.
Of those, only Matthews likely would be considered a pure right tackle. The others could play either side.
Maybe one of them will be the Bears' Matt Kalil.
Numbers games: Offensive regression
In the offseason, the Bears acquired Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Michael Bush. They added a backup quarterback with a track record. They excised the root of all evil, Mike Martz.
They are worse by every major offensive measure.
Let's compare the 2012 offense through 10 games with the 2011 offense through 11 games, that way each offense is judged with one full game without Jay Cutler.
The current offense has scored two touchdowns per game compared to 2.2 from the 2011 version. The 2012 offense has gained 57.1 fewer yards per game. These Bears have converted third downs at a rate of .317 compared to .355 a year ago.
As for Marshall's impact, passing yards have gone down by 53.7 yards per game. Yards per pass attempt have dipped from 7.31 to 6.78. The interception percentage has been worse (from 2.8 to 4.0), the pass protection has been worse (from 2.4 sacks per game to 3.4) and the passer rating has been worse (82.3 to 77.8).
The running game numbers are down slightly. The 2011 offense averaged 4.5 yards per carry and 98.6 yards per game compared to 4.2 and 95.2 this year.
Front office chess: Juggling linemen
James Brown was going to be promoted from the practice squad at some point this season. Probably sooner rather than later.
It was a closely guarded secret, but the undrafted free agent had impressed the Bears coaches with his work in practice and in the weight room. His development was probably part of the reason Chris Williams was released.
Brown had made steady progress since training camp. The key to the story is he had branched out to play guard as well as tackle.
In fact, it won't be a surprise if his future is at guard. Brown was an offensive tackle at Troy, and he looked like a fish out of water at guard in the Senior Bowl. But he has taken to the position.
Brown's promotion was hastened after Chilo Rachal shocked everyone at Halas Hall when he abruptly left the team Wednesday after learning he was demoted. Rachal returned Thursday, but it was too late.
Brown already had replaced him.
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