Tice: Bears have pieces to protect Cutler

Updated: May 23, 2010, 8:49 PM ET
By Michael C. Wright | ESPNChicago.com

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The bombs Jay Cutler launches look pretty.

But to make them possible, the Chicago Bears need to shore up the ugly aspect of the game, which is the specialty of offensive line coach Mike Tice. With the hubbub concerning the fast-break offensive system of Mike Martz at Bears minicamp, perhaps the most important element -- pass protection -- seems to get lost in the all the completions.

Not for Tice, though, who insists the task of protecting Cutler won't be any more difficult than anything he's done in the past in the pass-protection department.

"We carried a lot of protections in Jacksonville [where Tice coached the offensive line and served as assistant head coach] and Minnesota. And obviously, you have to carry enough protections to take care of the blitz of the week," Tice said, as he raised his long arms to close air quotation marks. "I enjoy carrying a lot of protections. We've got to give the quarterback a chance to set his feet."

Cutler didn't seem to enjoy such a luxury last season, when he finished the season tied with Donovan McNabb as the seventh-most sacked quarterback in the NFL (35 sacks). Prior to last season, Cutler hadn't ranked in the top 10 in terms of sacks allowed since 2008, when he was dropped 27 times to tie him for No. 8 on the list.

Interestingly, during Martz's first season as the offensive coordinator with the Detroit Lions (2006), quarterback Jon Kitna was sacked a league-high 63 times. St. Louis Rams quarterback Marc Bulger -- another Martz protégé -- was No. 2 on the list that season, having allowed 49 sacks.

Tice plans to take a simple approach to avoiding such high sack numbers.

"Everything that I believe in offensively is that all of our protections should start with securing the 'A' gap [the area between the center and guard on both sides] for the quarterback, to give him a chance to step up in the pocket," Tice said. "Give him a chance to slide a little bit in the pocket, and if anything is gonna happen, let it happen outside. That's how we're gonna start all of our protections -- from inside out -- and work it in that direction. That way, he can see and feel like he can deliver the football."

It's been said that one of the keys to making Martz's system go is utilizing tackles with the athleticism of left tackles; in essence, playing with two left tackles. Tice agreed that two "good athletes" are required at both tackle spots, but said he prefers intelligence at those positions.

"You need to have smart guys because there are occasions when the guy you're supposed to block is actually two guys," Tice said. "So you have to have good football awareness to know which of the two you are gonna block."

Tice believes the Bears possess the requisite pieces up front to adequately protect Cutler, provided they all stay healthy. Center Olin Kreutz, who has started in 118 consecutive games, missed minicamp recovering from a January surgery on his Achilles tendon, but appears to be on the way back.

There also appears to be some uncertainty at left guard with Kevin Shaffer, Lance Louis, and Johan Asiata in the mix for the starting job. Josh Beekman, who has started at left guard, is working with the first team at center as Kreutz's replacement.

Tice said he was pleased with Louis' performance at minicamp. Although Shaffer took a good portion of the first-team reps at minicamp, it's believed the Bears are high on Louis, too, because of his youth and size (6-foot-3, 305 pounds).

"Lance tweaked his ankle a little bit at the end [of practice on Sunday]," Tice said. "He's certainly very powerful, a good athlete; very thick, very strong. He's only had a couple of bad plays in every practice. So I think he's had a good camp."

Michael C. Wright covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com.

Michael C. Wright

ESPN Chicago Bears reporter

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