BOURBONNAIS -- It seems as though the only people who don't realize how important 13-year veteran center and unrestricted free agent Olin Kreutz is to the Bears reside in the team's front office.
Kreutz is, as yet, unsigned, and his teammates already miss him.
"He is one of the offensive leaders," quarterback Jay Cutler said. "He is the glue up front. He tells everyone what's going on. He's a guy I'd love to have. But I don't make those decisions, so we just kind of have to roll with what we have."
Kreutz's absence was made painfully obvious early and often in the Bears' first training-camp practice Saturday afternoon.
Emergency fill-ins Roberto Garza and Chris Williams, who normally would be the starting guards, botched five quarterback exchanges, three of them by Williams.
In their defense, neither player has much recent experience at center.
"Hopefully it doesn't come to that," Garza said of the notion of him playing center in a game. "We need Olin's veteran leadership.
"He means a lot to this team and makes everybody better around him. But, for whatever unfortunate reason it doesn't get done, then if they put me in, I have to go in there and play and get the job done.
"Hopefully it doesn't come to that."
Neither Garza nor Chris Williams would have been in that position Saturday if not for the new rule created by the slapdash nature of this year's free agency.
It prohibits free agents of any kind from practicing until Thursday. Otherwise, exclusive rights free agent Edwin Williams, who was re-signed, would have been in the pivot. But he's limited to bystander status for three more days.
"We were going to do this in the off-season, for the future, take a look at Chris at center," offensive line coach Mike Tice said. "We had a couple center-exchange issues with Chris. He hasn't played center since 2004 in spring ball at Vanderbilt, and he's a lefty, so we wanted to give him a couple snaps at the end of each set at center.
"I thought he did reasonably OK. It's expected that he was going to have some problems."
Edwin Williams started three games at right guard for the Bears last season, but he was a three-year, full-time starting center at Maryland.
He would have performed better than either of the two centers who worked with the first team Saturday, but not nearly as well as Kreutz.
"We'd love to have him back," Tice said of Kreutz. "I understand the business, though. What I have to have in place is a plan for us -- for my bosses and my peers -- that's going to enable us to win if we don't get him back.
"Really, that's where my mind is at right now.
"I can't coach someone that's not here, but I can certainly coach the guys that are here and try to put together the best five quickly -- much more quickly than last year."
Last year the Bears allowed more sacks than any team in the NFL, and it wasn't until the eighth game of the season that Tice decided on the starting five.
After that, there were signs of improvement.
"The problem last year," Tice said, "was that I didn't know what anyone could do. I know what eight or nine guys can do right now."
First-round draft pick Gabe Carimi took his Saturday snaps at left tackle with the second team.
The Bears want him to win a starting job, but without any off-season that will be more difficult, and it's still uncertain which tackle spot he will wind up playing as a rookie.
On Saturday, J'Marcus Webb was at right tackle and Frank Omiyale at left tackle with the ones, which is where they were for the last 10 games last season.
"I don't know how athletic Carimi is yet, to decide 'OK, leave him alone on the left or move him over to the right,'" Tice said. "The issue I'm running into is not having an off-season. You feel a little less aggressive as far as making a move."
Putting Kreutz at center is one move Tice would make immediately … if he could.