When I wrote about the offensive tackles, I talked about the overall improvement in the offensive line. I truly believe that a large portion of the credit for the massive amount of offensive improvement can be given to the offensive line’s showing. Their play is the cornerstone for the offense; no amount of skill position talent in the world can play well if the quarterback is running for his life, or if there aren’t any running lanes. Digging down further, the interior unit is sort of the cornerstone’s cornerstone; protection schemes and run-blocking starts from the inside and works out. (Even the Bears outside running plays featured a large number of guard-pulling blocks.)
There were two new faces among the three interior starters this past season, but I’ll save both of them for tomorrow.
Today, we’ll (fittingly) start with the initiator of the offense, who also happens to be the longest-tenured Bear on the offensive side of the ball.
Roberto Garza, C
Garza came to the Bears as a free agent prior to the 2005 season; he was originally a fourth-round draft selection of the Atlanta Falcons in 2001. He was a full-time guard with the Bears until the sudden departure of Olin Kreutz following the 2010 season, when he made the transition to center. He’s been a solid player for a very long time now, and despite his age he played 100% of available offensive snaps in 2013. He was somewhat maligned for his play this year, but in reality it wasn’t that bad of a season; not surprising, given the upgrade in talent around him. Offensive line play is very much a group effort, sort of a “rising tides lift all boats” theory. With competent players on either side of him, he put up a decent season, graded a +7.2 by Pro Football Focus. I’m relying more on their numbers for things like offensive line evaluations, which are so very difficult for me to attempt to quantify. One negative thing about Garza that I can quantify: his shotgun snaps this year were just dismal. Regardless of quarterback, he just seemed to struggle with the task of getting the ball into his hands, and not low and hard to either side. (Of course, that’s not exactly a skill that can’t be improved upon.)
That does not necessarily mean he’ll return; an unrestricted free agent, Garza turns 35 in March. He made just over $2 million last season, and I’m not sure the Bears are in a position to offer him a raise. And while his performance was solid, and there’s a case to be made for changing as little as possible on offense, the Bears might decide that it’s time to go younger at the position. There’s not an heir-apparent (unless they really like Taylor Boggs, who I’ll get to shortly) but Phil Emery has proven to be a proactive general manager; if he feels an upgrade is available in the draft, I’m sure that’s a move he’d make.
I think Garza has one or two effective years left, and if he is retained, I wouldn’t be upset by it. Nor would I be upset if the Bears decide it’s time to move on. In either case, I’d wish the best for him, as he’s always struck me as someone who is very involved in positive work off the field.
Taylor Boggs, C/G
Tomorrow I’ll focus on players who profile strictly as guards, but Boggs is an interesting player thanks to the relative mystery involved.. He was signed in April of 2013 after missing 2012 with an ACL tear. He went undrafted in 2011 before catching on with the Jets, but he never played a game for them. He was only active for two games in 2013 as a Bear, seeing the field for 5 special teams snaps. So what do the Bears have in Boggs?
Well, to be honest, I have no idea. This Brad Biggs profile piece for the Tribune tells an interesting story; Boggs was apparently undersized out of high school, and added about 100 pounds of weight in college. According to Boggs, that led to NFL personnel people asking him how that was possible without the use of PED’s. It also details Boggs’s relationship with former Pro Bowl-lineman LeCharles Bentley. It’s an interesting read, and if nothing else it made me want to root for him. According to Spotrac, Boggs is classified as an ERFA this offseason, or “exclusive rights free agent”; that designation essentially means the Bears hold a team option for his services at the league minimum. If they want him back, they need only tender him a minimum contract offer.
Considering they liked him enough to keep him on the team as the primary backup center, I think it’s more than likely that the Bears do extend that offer. Whether he goes into camp with a shot at the center position is another matter entirely, and it’s one that’s tough for me to judge, having never seen him play a down. I think beyond exercising their contract rights for him, the biggest sign as to what the Bears think of Boggs will be what they do in the draft and/or free agency. (And, of course, what they decide to do with regards to Roberto Garza.) After those periods, the depth chart will begin to shake out. But so far, the Phil Emery, Marc Trestman, Aaron Kromer, and others have given me no reason to distrust their abilities with regards to evaluating offensive line talent, so I’m willing to wait and see.