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Bears' line aims to keep Cutler upright

The SportsXchange

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- When the rebuilt Bears offensive line struggled in early padded practices, it provided further evidence that keeping quarterback Jay Cutler protected in his contract year will be no simple matter.

The change to an offensive system with Cutler throwing off three- and five-step drops was expected to greatly aid his blockers. Yet, in the initial padded practices the offensive line had trouble keeping defensive ends Julius Peppers and Corey Wootton at bay. Second-year end Shea McClellin came open untouched and so fast on one play that Cutler had no chance even to set up.

"That's pretty normal for the first time - the defense usually has the jump and it usually evens out in the end," coach Marc Trestman said.

The development of the group as a unit can only be slowed by the calf strain suffered by left tackle Jermon Bushrod Monday during warmups. Veteran Jonathan Scott replaced him on Cutler's blind side.

It wasn't surprising when Bushrod experienced so much trouble the first day of contact drills with a Pro Bowl player like Peppers, but J'Marcus Webb is a starter moved from left to right tackle. And he could not hold Wootton in check.

As a result, it would shock no one if Scott, who has 35 NFL starts, were to receive a chance for reps with starters at right tackle -- once he is done filling in for Bushrod on the left side anyway.

The only position being challenged early was right guard, where undrafted second-year free agent James Brown and rookie first-round pick Kyle Long swapped time as starters. Brown has put on almost 30 pounds after moving from tackle, but Long's great athleticism was apparent from the start as he pancaked two linemen in pass-rush drills. He's expected to ascend to that position at some point in camp.

Trestman said his goal is to have the starting five offensive linemen in place by the week leading up to the season opener. It can't come fast enough considering the Bears' blocking problems of recent years.

Cutler has been sacked an average of 37 times a year in Chicago after being sacked just 38 total times in his two full seasons as a Denver starter.

Provided they can avoid further injuries like Bushrod's, expectations are for the line to improve greatly throughout camp just from being together and facing a formidable Bears defensive front each day.

"Iron sharpens iron," left guard Matt Slauson said. "And in my opinion this is one of the best defensive lines in the league."

If not, then the root of many problems the offense suffered under former offensive coordinator Mike Tice could carry over into the new regime.

--Team correspondents for The Sports Xchange contributed material for this story.
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