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updated: 8/8/2011 8:50 PM

Bears' Tice evaluates his front five

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  • Bears offensive line coach Mike Tice likes what he has seen so far from his starting five going into Saturday's preseason opener against the Buffalo Bills.

      Bears offensive line coach Mike Tice likes what he has seen so far from his starting five going into Saturday's preseason opener against the Buffalo Bills.
    Associated Press

 
 

BOURBONNAIS -- Offensive line coach Mike Tice's starting five are set in stone -- but only for Saturday's preseason opener.

It reads, from left tackle to right tackle, J'Marcus Webb, Chris Williams, Roberto Garza, Lance Louis and Gabe Carimi.

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But Garza has played just one game at center in his 11-year NFL career, so he's obviously more comfortable at his familiar right-guard position.

Also, the Bears didn't sign center Chris Spencer to a two-year deal for $6 million, including a $2 million signing bonus, so he could sit on the bench.

"We'll get through that first game, and we'll evaluate that and see if we need to split some reps with Roberto and (Chris) Spencer," Tice said.

"But the way things are going and how they're improving every day and all the good things I've seen, I'm not really in the sense that I need to change anything right now."

Regardless of the configuration, Tice is more optimistic about his troops than he was a year ago, when he spent half of the regular season piecing together the jigsaw puzzle that was the O-line.

"I think we're light years ahead of where we were last year," he said. "We're definitely more physical and bigger, and I'm pleased.

"I think we're running the football better right now than we did at any point in camp or preseason last year."

The Bears are just 10 days into training camp, but Tice has seen enough to offer up an early scouting report on what is, for now, the starting five.

LT J'Marcus Webb

"I think they're both doing well, and they're both getting better," Tice said of Webb, who started at right tackle as a rookie last year, and this year's first-round pick, Carimi. "They're both going to be really good players.

"J'Marcus is to me a better athlete, and you want your better athlete on the left side."

The 6-foot-7, 333-pound Webb started 24 games at left tackle in his two years at West Texas A&M, so the move to the left side was a logical switch for him.

LG Chris Williams

Williams (6-6, 320) was drafted as the left tackle of the future in the first round in 2008, but he has a better chance inside, where he started 11 games last season with mixed results.

"Chris is getting better," Tice said. "We had all this time (to evaluate) in the off-season, so we pointed some things out for Chris to work on, (like) anchoring with his base and trying to keep his feet in the ground more.

"Sometimes great athletes -- and he's a great athlete for a big man -- tend to be up on their toes because they are athletic. I'm trying to get him to play with more heels in the ground.

"If we could do that, that's going to help him anchor, that's going to help him in pass protection. He's working diligently at it."

C Roberto Garza

The 6-2, 310-pound Garza started all but two games for the Bears over the previous five seasons. He has started 116 NFL games but just one at center, and that was as a rookie in 2001.

"There's some anxiety there for Roberto," Tice said. "He's only started one game at center in his career. At first I don't know that he was totally embracing it, but he's such a team player that he's going to do what we ask him to do."

Tice said Garza has developed a quick chemistry with quarterback Jay Cutler on the center exchange, but "he doesn't have the same awareness and those type of things, obviously, that an Olin Kreutz had. But he's a veteran guy, he's been around a long time, and he knows football."

RG Lance Louis

The 2009 seventh-round pick started the first four games at right guard but wasn't able to play through minor injuries.

But Tice said the 6-3, 320-pounder is a better player this year.

"He's bigger and more physical," Tice said. "He's had some experience, he's played in some games, and he has more confidence. He's communicating better; he's opening his mouth.

"He's such an elite pass protector. He was an elite pass protector last year, but he's doing better in the run game. He can run. He's definitely ahead of where he was last year.

"Last year I anointed him the right guard because I looked at him and I was like, 'This could really help us,' but then he got a couple nicks and bruises and didn't play through it because of (lack of) maturity.

"This year he's come in with a different determination and a different maturity, and we're real pleased with where Lance is at right now."

RT Gabe Carimi

"Gabe is obviously a better run blocker (than pass blocker)," Tice said. "Gabe came into the league an elite run blocker -- that's all they do at Wisconsin, right? -- and so he's an elite run blocker already."

Carimi agrees with Tice's assessment, but he's confident he will become a complete player soon.

"Yeah, that's definitely accurate," the 6-7, 316-pound rookie said. "I'm a pretty good run blocker. That was my forte.

"Now all I have to do is keep on working on my pass protection and I'll get there, where I'll be an elite pass pro guy, too."

•Follow Bob's Bears reports via Twitter @BobLeGere and check out our Bear Essentials blog at dailyherald.com.

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