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Bears have options on the offensive line

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New Orleans Saints v Carolina Panthers

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Updated: April 1, 2013 12:04PM



Coach Marc Trestman developed his reputation working with quarterbacks.

His main tenet is protecting the passer and providing a pocket.

So Trestman has his hands full with the Bears.

The Bears’ offensive line again was among the worst in the NFL, ranking 30th in an analysis by Pro Football Focus. So to revamp the team’s beleaguered unit, Trestman and general manager Phil Emery need to add at least two players to the mix.

Fortunately for them, there are plenty of offseason options.

Two league executives suggested the least risky approach is to address the unit in free agency and the draft, both of which have strong classes.

The Bears have more than $12 million in salary-cap space, but a large chunk of that should be allocated for the expected franchise tag ($8.3 million) or salary-cap hit if they can work out a long-term deal with Pro Bowl defensive tackle Henry Melton before the deadline Monday. The Bears, though, have plenty of ways to create more space, if necessary.

Emery’s preference is to build the roster via the draft but adding two starter-caliber players in April seems unrealistic.

The Bears’ top pick is the 20th overall, and Luke Joeckel, Eric Fisher and Lane Johnson — who shined at the combine — are likely to be long gone. That leaves the Bears hoping that one of the stud guards (Chance Warmack, Jonathan Cooper) somehow slips or that the fourth-best tackle, D.J. Fluker, is available.

That’s why it’s important that the Bears upgrade immediately in March.

The top free agent is Ryan Clady, but he’s expected to get franchised by the Denver Broncos. Other top offensive tackles include Sebastian Vollmer (New England Patriots), Andre Smith (Cincinnati Bengals), Jake Long (Miami Dolphins), Phil Loadholt (Minnesota Vikings), Branden Albert (Kansas City Chiefs), Jermon Bushrod (New Orleans Saints) and Sam Baker (Atlanta Falcons).

Of those players, the safest pick is Bushrod, whom new offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer has worked with since 2009. A 2007 fourth-round pick, Bushrod has started every game the last three seasons, and he turns 29 in August. The Saints aren’t expected to use their franchise tag this offseason, and Bushrod might cost too much for the cap-strapped team.

Given the swings and misses at the position, there’s something to be said for the new regime’s emphasis on familiarity. Bushrod might not have the potential of some of the other players available, but he has been developed by Kromer and earned consecutive trips to the Pro Bowl.

Having worked in Atlanta and Kansas City, Emery also is very familiar with two key free agents, Baker and Albert. Baker has battled back injuries but started 16 games for the Falcons in 2012. Albert — after missing only one game in 2010 and 2011 — was sidelined for three games with a back injury last season.

The point is, there are options, and the Bears can’t sit idly by.

The most consistent lineman last season was guard Lance Louis, who tore his ACL and is an unrestricted free agent. As for the most important position in the unit, J’Marcus Webb, at best, was average compared to other left tackles.

Even after his recent arrest, Webb shouldn’t be dumped, but he also should have stiffer competition.



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