As the Bears get ready to wrap up their OTA workouts and then close out the middle of June with their mandatory veteran mini-camp it's time to look at where the depth chart stands from last year at this time to this year. Most people are focusing in on the starters and trying to gauge whether this team is better now than it was a year ago. On paper certain positions appear to be better off, while others likely need an influx of depth if not outright talent compared to last season.
The most talked about position group on the roster, the position group that has completely dominated the off-season conversation over the last four seasons is the offensive line. Where do the Bears stand with their offensive line depth? The flurry of activity along the offensive line has led to it completely overshadowing the rest of the depth chart. Much like the addition of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery last year, the overall picture may be completely muddied by two moves, adding one stable veteran and a highly thought of rookie.
Last year they made an effort to add some talent when they added Chilo Rachal to the mix, and Gabe Carimi came back from injury. The Chilo Rachal signing of last year is absolutely no different than the Matt Slauson signing this year, regardless of how the Rachal signing looks now. With the ability of hindsight you can look at the Rachal signing and say it was an absolute disaster because Rachal played poorly, was benched and quit the team as a result. Prior to the start of the season however, Chilo Rachal was a very strong run blocker, who wasn't as good as a pass blocker. Flip it around and Matt Slauson is a very good pass blocker, but struggles as a run blocker. Therefore you can easily call this free agent addition a complete wash at this point in the 2013 off-season. The prediction is Slauson will come in to Chicago and at worst be the player he was with the New York Jets. That's a safe assumption, but we won't know until the season plays itself out, Slauson could just as easily regress as a pass blocker and then the signing would be just as bad as the Rachal signing.
The left tackle situation is an upgrade, but how big of an upgrade is it really? Bushrod is a known commodity a two-time Pro Bowl player who has a reputation for being a good LT. However where Bushrod is a big upgrade is in the number of sacks allowed over his career in comparison to Webb. Certainly this is a very important statistical and tangible upgrade over the Webb of 2011. Webb in 2011 allowed 12 sacks 6 QB hits and 30 QB pressures. Bushrod allowed 4 sacks, 8 QB hits and 42 QB pressures in 2012. Bushrod of 2012 is an upgrade over Webb of 2011. Webb however enjoyed a better pass protection season in 2012, something Bushrod must duplicate. Bushrod's history as a starting left tackle doesn't guarantee there will be a major improvement over Webb's 2012 campaign. Webb allowed seven sacks in 2012 (two of the seven were clearly on Jay Cutler upon further film review) and 29 QB pressures.
Bushrod has never allowed less than30 QB pressures in a season during his entire stint in the NFL, regardless of his ability to earn a Pro Bowl nod. In 2009 Bushrod allowed 32 QB pressures, in 2010 he allowed 48 QB pressures, in 2011 he allowed 42 QB pressures. Bushrod doesn't have one real season you can point to and honestly say he played at a top-5 level for a starting LT in the NFL. The numbers that don't always show up on the box score could be an indicator of a major problem right around the corner. Year after year in terms of total QB hits allowed and total QB pressures allowed, Jermon Bushrod has simply been awful, and there is no indication that that non-traditional metric will get better in 2013. Bushrod's history as a pass protector shouldn't give Bears fans the high level of confidence they have in Bushrod because his history doesn't back up the level of confidence or the money invested in him.
At the center position it's still a complete wash as Garza and Edwin Williams return just as they did a year ago. Neither showed any major level of drop off in play and don't seem to in position to drop off in any major way in 2013. The biggest risk factor is Garza is obviously another year older.
The right guard position is a position of interest when comparing the depth chart from last year to this year. Kyle Long on paper seems like an upgrade, simply because he's a first round pick. Rookies struggle to make the jump to the NFL from college, it's a simple fact of life. Only on rare occasions do rookies come in and perform at the same level as a solid NFL starter. The Bears should likely consider that Long will play as well as Lance Louis did at RG last year.
At right tackle the competition between J'Marcus Webb and rookie Jordan Mills is more stable than Gabe Carimi coming back from knee surgery and UDFA James Brown and Cory Brandon competing for the RT spot. If Webb carries over his play from the LT spot in 2012 to the RT spot in 2013 it's a wash at worse based on the preseason expectations of Carimi prior to the 2012 season returning from knee surgery. If Webb out plays himself in 2013 the right side of the offensive line could be a lot more stable.
The overall depth improved only from a sheer numbers stand point. No one can sit here and possibly say that the depth on the offensive line is light years ahead of the depth from 2012 at the same point as last year. Chris Spencer had a really solid 2011 season (2012 was a major disappointment at LG) Spencer at Louis were likely better options at guard than Gabe Carimi (knee), Eben Britton (knee), Jame Brown and Long are. The idea is that more bodies creates better competition and breeds better players. That's a nice tired and true football cliche, but there isn't a lot of evidence to back it up. You could theoretically have a lot of bad players and then some of the bad will play worse than the guys who wind up being your starters. We don't know precisely how much better the overall depth will be, we can only assume that it's going to be better, because how can it possibly get any worse?
When you look deeply into the numbers and watch the film you see there is an upgrade in play at the left tackle position at this point in time in the total number of sacks allowed between Bushrod and Webb. Bushrod gives up less sacks, but has given up more QB hits and more QB pressures since Webb's first year in 2010.
There are injury concerns in Carimi and Britton, and there are first year player concerns in Long and Mills. The most shocking revelation in all of this? J'Marcus Webb is overall the best offensive lineman on the roster despite all the additions made during the 2013 off-season.