Arkush: Championships built on offensive, defensive lines
The Bears have enjoyed one extended period of excellence in my lifetime. From 1984 through 1991, the Bears were one of the best teams in the NFL, winning one Super Bowl, playing in three NFC title games and going to the playoffs every year but 1989.
Even though he resigned as general manager in 1983 after the death of George Halas and the arrival of Michael McCaskey, NFL Hall of Famer Jim Finks was the architect of those teams.
He also was a friend of my dad and one of the folks who took me under his wing to learn the game as a young reporter after my dad died and I took over Pro Football Weekly.
One of the first things he taught me was the rule he used to build Super Bowl teams in Minnesota and Chicago, and a contender in New Orleans before he passed away. Finks believed that championship teams are built on the offensive and defensive lines, and he always practiced what he preached.
In the 10 NFL drafts he oversaw for the Bears, he had 12 first-round picks and he used them on four offensive linemen (Dennis Lick, Ted Albrecht, Keith Van Horne), three defensive linemen (Dan Hampton, Al Harris and Dave Gallagher), two linebackers (Waymond Bryant and Otis Wilson) and one quarterback (Jim McMahon), one running back (Walter Payton) and one receiver (Willie Gault).
The fact that two of his picks also were Hall of Famers Payton and Hampton, of course, helped. But the fact is his formula worked everywhere he went.
So, knowing what we think we know now about the current Bears, what should they do in the upcoming 2014 draft and free agency? I’ll bet you know what I’m about to say.
Phil Emery is off to a good start. His first two picks have been defensive end Shea McClellin (actually a linebacker at Boise State) and offensive lineman Kyle Long. And if he wants to win, he’ll keep his focus right where it’s been.
One fact of these Bears is their pass protection has been significantly improved, but the offensive line might not be at all. The short yardage running game is awful, and the running game, in general, is more about the occasional big play than consistent good blocking.
The pass protection has been improved more by regular maximum protection – six and seven players kept in to block – and the deployment of a sixth offensive lineman, Eben Britton, than it has been by upgraded talent.
The Bears still need another starting offensive tackle – Jordan Mills has played poorly and doesn’t appear to be improving – unless the decision is to move Long to tackle, in which case they need a guard. It’s hard to imagine Roberto Garza playing more than another year if they elect to re-sign him at all.
Another consideration is that, while Jermon Bushrod was signed as a Pro Bowl left tackle, he has been average at best. It’s possible the Bears’ best plan moving forward is to move Long to left tackle, Bushrod to right tackle and give James Brown a shot at guard while they draft at least one more guard and a center.
There is no doubt in my mind, though, that more help is needed on the offensive line.
Clearly, the story is the same on the defensive line. The Bears have to draft, or find in free agency (or both), at least one more pass-rushing defensive end and two tackles. And that’s assuming they aren’t silly enough to think they can afford to lose Julius Peppers to save cap space.
The McClellin experiment should be over. Give him a shot at linebacker or move on.
I hope Henry Melton makes a full recovery but counting on it is folly. Even if he does, he is not a complete player.
The Bears should re-sign Corey Wootton, but only at their price.
The bottom line is, as badly as they need help at safety and linebacker, this team and this defense isn’t getting better until it’s fixed up front.
• Hub Arkush covers the Bears for Shaw Media and HubArkush.com. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.