Like many Bears fans, I was saddened to see center Roberto Garza released (via Dan Wiederer at the Chicago Tribune). I can still remember meeting WSCR‘s Mike Mulligan briefly at the Chicago Bears convention downtown in 2005 when he asked me as a fan what I thought of the signing. I said, “The guys missing a ligament in his knee, right?” Mulligan threw his hands up and said, “I know! The guys got no ACL!”.
We should all be so lucky. ACL or not, Garza started 145 games over 10 seasons in Chicago.
We can only speculate as to why the Bears decided to replace Garza. My first thought was age but Will Montgomery, who at least for now replaces Garza in the starting lineup, isn’t exactly a spring chicken at 32. The Bears will evidently be drafting a center some time soon but they probably could have stuck with Garza for another year if all they wanted was a veteran to stand in for a year. Hub Arkush at chicagofootball.com apparently agrees.
One thing that’s evident about the 2015 Bears is that if they’re going to carry out head coach John Fox‘s plan to run the ball, they’re going to have to do something about the offensive line. Former Bears head coach Marc Trestman was roasted for not running the ball enough but my strong suspicion is that it wasn’t that he didn’t want to run it. It’s that he didn’t think they could block it. How much of that had to do with Garza, I don’t know. To me, Garza always passed the eye test but there’s no denying the Bears has a lot of trouble moving guys out of the way and running up the middle to get tough yards. Statistically he had a mediocre player rating of -1.3 at profootballfocus.com but his pass blocking efficiency was well above average. That leads me to believe that his weakness in their eyes was run blocking.
It probably isn’t a coincidence that run blocking is Mongomery’s strength. Montgomery is also familiar with the blocking scheme the Bears will be using after playing to offensive coordinator Adam Gase and Bears head coach John Fox last year. At least some of that will likely be zone blocking, something that could improve the performance all along the line with this group, which shows more finesse and athleticism overall than power. I found Montgomery’s comments about it to be intriguing. Via Patrick Finley at the Chicago Sun-Times:
“They can run zone, man schemes, power schemes. I think they do gameplan-specific things as well. I don’t know if I’m the exact fit for this offense — I think I’m a fit for a lot of offenses. It is fun to play for these coaches.”
Diversity is nice but whatever they do, it had better fit their talent (or lack there of).
Debate about Garza aside, whatever else the Bears do this offseason, I hope they do more to improve the offensive line. Garza may or may not have been a weakness in the run game but to my eye both tackles definitely are. Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune appears to believe that former seventh round pick Charles Leno may have a shot somewhere along the line. If they’re going to take the game out of quarterback Jay Cutler‘s hands, they’re going to have give it to Matt Forte and the other runners. And they’re going to have to ride the backs of the boys up front.