The Bears have plenty of weapons at the skill positions and a terrific quarterback, but their offense won’t take a big step if their offensive line isn’t better than it was a year ago.
On paper, the Bears line should be significantly better. They lost Matt Slauson, but Kyle Long moving back to guard, combined with Cody Whitehair or Ted Larsen have to be better than Vlad Ducasse and whoever else they played last year. At his worst Bobby Massie was as good as Long was at tackle last year and, over the last 10 games last year, he was actually pretty good. Charles Leno Jr. and Hroniss Grasu should be better with experience.
But outside of Long, who should be expected to return to his stellar form at guard, there’s the possibility it all goes the other way.
If Massie reverts to being the subpar player he was two years ago, he’ll be a problem.
That player, combined with an unimproved Leno, could lead to severe struggles for the edges of a unit set to face Ansah, Matthews, Griffen…etc.
The edges aren’t the only problem.
Manny Ramirez was supposed to be insurance in case Hroniss Grasu is still Horrendous Grasu. Ramirez retired. Grasu is still a question mark.
Larsen has played center before but moving him over won’t be an option if Whitehair struggles as many rookie do. like Grasu did last year. (Whitehair is considered a better prospect than Grasu, but some still question if he’s strong enough.) If they end up with Larsen playing either spot, it isn’t a good thing.
There is a perception the Bears line wasn’t as bad a year ago. That isn’t true. They threw short passes to hide their line, but still gave up 33 sacks. (If Mike Martz or Mike Tice were calling the plays, they would’ve given up 60 sacks.) Just as importantly, they led the league in holding penalties (35) to go with 19 false starts.
It wasn’t all bad. The Bears were 11th in rushing yardage last year and sixth in attempts. Not a great average, but they were effective. They also scored pretty well in the metrics used by Football Outsiders. The Bears ranked inside the top five in both rushing in short yardage situations and how often their running backs were tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage.
Still, if the Bears are going to score enough points to make a serious playoff push, they need their line to be better.