The readjack.com All-Bears Post-Ditka Team
September 13, 2009: OFFENSIVE LINE
LEFT TACKLE-Andy Heck
LEFT GUARD-Ruben Brown
RIGHT GUARD-Chris Villarrial
RIGHT TACKLE-Big Cat
In contention: Blake Brockermeyer, Ruben Brown, Jerry Fontenot, Roberto Garza, Andy Heck, Olin Kreutz, Jay Leeuwenburg, Fred Miller, Todd Perry, John Tait, Rex Tucker, Chris Villarrial, James O. Williams
When the planning began for the announcements of the starting members of the readjack.com All-Bears Post-Ditka Team, a question was posed: “In what order?” And from the jump, the obvious answer was offensive line. Because as everyone knows, it all starts with the offensive line.
Since we will be announcing this team position by position, and unveiling our full roster on October 9, we consider these starting spots as the opening depth chart. As we proceed, discuss, argue, take suggestions, and carry on with the disagreements, the good guess is that this roster will evolve and develop. Changes will be made. And yet we feel confident with these initial offerings, especially at tackle, where veterans Andy Heck and James ‘Big Cat’ Williams will be providing protection on the outsides.
Though his career began on the defensive line, Big Cat was the Bears’ rock at right tackle from 1994 to 2002. During that time, he started in 143 of 144 possible games, his lone absence coming in ’94. He is one of two offensive linemen to start on multiple playoff teams (counting ’05-’06 as one team), has impressive height at 6’7, and had a real knack for blocking kicks, making him a special teams standout as well.
Heck arrived as a free agent in 1994 from the Seattle Seahawks, immediately rescuing the blindside of all Bears quarterbacks from the meddling footwork of first-round bust Troy Auzene. Along with Big Cat, big number 64 anchored the ends of a Bears o-line that beat up the Vikings in the playoffs. The team gave up only 25 sacks that year, which ties 2006 for the fourth best mark in the Post-Ditka Era. The Heck and Williams-led lines of 1995 and 1996 finished first and second, respectively, in that category.
Heck edged five-year veteran John Tait for the second tackle spot.
There was more discussion at guard, where Ruben Brown, Roberto Garza, Todd Perry, and Chris Villarrial all figured in. Our first selections were Garza and Perry. Perry took over the starting left guard spot in 1995 following the retirement of Mark Bortz, and went on to start 90 games in six seasons. Garza was signed in 2005 as a big free agent (along with Fred Miller, and Tait/Brown the season before) but was oddly left on the bench behind Terrence Metcalf for the 2005 Kyle Orton season. Garza has started all 16 games each of the past three seasons, and will continue on as the starter in 2009. (Though that, of course, does not matter for our purposes.)
To be sure, we would sleep well at night with a combo of Garza and Perry. And that, for our purposes, does matter. Because more than any other position, a fan’s experience with an offensive line is all about safety. About feeling protected. When the Bears have a beastly, efficient, locked-in and healthy o-line, as they did in ’01 and ’06, we of the AB PD Selection Committee feel powerful and confident in all facets of life. When the line is in shambles with obvious backups starting (Steve Edwards, Aaron Gibson, John St. Clair) or with former stars breaking down and running slow (Brown/Miller/Tait in ’07), we feel frightened and cowardly.
So despite starting only 45 games (the low man on this list along with Brockermeyer), and despite being a non-factor in 2007, Ruben Brown’s production in the first three years of Lovie are too good to pass up.
The eight-time Pro Bowler with Buffalo was one of only three Post-Ditka o-linemen to make a Pro Bowl in Chicago. In 2005 he helped the Bears eclipse the 2000 yard mark on the ground for the first and only time PD. The major drawback of Brown is not just the low number of games played, but the high number of games missed. He played a full season in the Super Bowl year, but missed 19 games in his other three years on the team. It is possible that Perry or Garza will move up the depth chart later on, but for now, Brown is our guy.
When the Bears run a trap, Brown’s pulling mate will be Chris Villarrial. The Indiana (PA) alum played some at both guard and center in 1996 and 1997 before securing the right guard spot in 1998. He started 109 games there before signing with Buffalo in 2004.
At center, the only competition for the six-time Pro Bowler Kreutz was dependable, reliable, unflappable Jerry Fontenot. Number 67 started the first 64 games of the PD Era, never missing a start.
But no one touches our favorite finger-twitchin’ ball-snappin’ fight-startin’ maniac, who, with fellow center Patrick Mannelly (the RJ AB PD LS), holds the current mark for Bears tenure. Kreutz, who was All Pro in 2006, is known for his fiery sense of manners and his knack for personal foul penalties and punching out teammates. Though we must say, for a certifiable Bears legend, it does seem like Ol’ Olin collects an awful lot of holds and false starts, doesn’t it?
That is something we will be keeping an eye on here in 2009.