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updated: 1/31/2013 10:51 AM

49ers, Ravens invest more in O-Line than Bears

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  • The San Francisco 49ers start three first-round draft picks on their offensive line, including tackle Joe Staley (74) and guard Mike Iupati (77).

      The San Francisco 49ers start three first-round draft picks on their offensive line, including tackle Joe Staley (74) and guard Mike Iupati (77).
    Associated Press

  • The Baltimore Ravens offensive line came together when tackle Bryant McKinnie (78) was moved to the left side, shifting tackle Michael Oher to the right side. The Ravens have picked seven offensive linemen in the first three rounds of the draft in the last 10 years.

      The Baltimore Ravens offensive line came together when tackle Bryant McKinnie (78) was moved to the left side, shifting tackle Michael Oher to the right side. The Ravens have picked seven offensive linemen in the first three rounds of the draft in the last 10 years.
    Associated Press

  • Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco credits his offensive line for the team's postseason success this season. Here right tackle Michael Oher (74) blocks Denver Broncos defensive end Robert Ayers.

      Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco credits his offensive line for the team's postseason success this season. Here right tackle Michael Oher (74) blocks Denver Broncos defensive end Robert Ayers.
    Associated Press

 
 

It's likely to get lost amid much sexier story lines this week, but one of the key ingredients in each Super Bowl team is its offensive line.

And the talent level at that position is the biggest difference between the non-playoff Bears and the Super Bowl XLVII competitors from San Francisco and Baltimore.

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The discrepancy at the position between the Bears and the two conference champions isn't primarily the result of good coaching -- it's the result of a firmer commitment to investing in the "big uglies" up front who don't get much of the credit but are greatly responsible for their team's offensive success.

Playoff teams such as the 49ers and the Ravens have invested heavily in the big bodies who protect the skill-position guys.

The Bears have not.

While the Bears have devoted a total of two picks in the first three rounds of the NFL Draft over the last 10 years to offensive linemen, the Ravens and the 49ers have made the O-line a priority.

The 49ers used two first-round picks in 2010 alone on offensive linemen, taking tackle Anthony Davis with the 11th overall pick and guard Mike Iupati with the 17th overall selection. Both players will start Sunday, along with a 2007 first-round pick, left tackle Joe Staley.

Over that same 10 years that the Bears largely ignored offensive linemen in the early rounds, the 49ers used four first-round picks, three second-round picks and a third-round pick on offensive linemen.

The Ravens have used seven draft picks in the first three rounds on offensive linemen in the last 10 years. Of their five starters Sunday, they drafted one in each of the first three rounds, and a fourth, Bryant McKinnie, was a first-round pick by the Minnesota Vikings in 2002.

The Bears countered by drafting 10 offensive linemen in 10 years, but six of them were chosen in the seventh and final round.

The Bears' lack of talent and depth on the offensive line would be even more pronounced had they not enjoyed found some success with seventh-round picks Lance Louis and J'Marcus Webb. Both players have become starters, and Louis, in particular, could be a building block for the future.

Unfortunately for the Bears, Louis ended the season on injured reserve with torn knee ligaments, and he won't be 100 percent for several more months.

Even when the Bears have used high-round picks on offensive linemen, they haven't been immediately successful. Chris Williams, their 2008 first-round pick, was an inconsistent, off-and-on starter at three positions over five seasons before he was released after five games this season. Gabe Carimi, their 2011 first-round selection from Wisconsin, showed promise early in his rookie year before a knee injury ended his season in Game Two. He played himself out of the starting lineup three times last season at two different positions, but is still young enough to turn things around and have a successful career.

The bigger problem for the Bears is they just haven't invested enough quality picks in offensive linemen.

In seven of the last 10 drafts, the Bears have either not drafted an offensive lineman at all or waited until at least the sixth round to go big. While they hit the jackpot with Louis and got a serviceable player in Webb, their other late-round offensive line picks never came close to panning out. Seventh-rounders Chester Adams (2008), Kirk Barton (2008), Aaron Brant (2007) and Bryan Anderson (2003) and sixth-rounder Tyler Reed (2006) never started a game and played in a total of five.

This year's crop of offensive tackles awaiting the NFL Draft is considered to be outstanding, with several expected to be first-round picks, and plenty of depth beyond that.

It's a perfect year for the Bears to start making up for a decade of neglect.

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