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SportsMonday: Spencer For Kreutz Is Offensive

Two years ago, I would have been delighted to hear the Bears had dumped Olin Kreutz. I had watched the Williamses (huge Viking linemen Pat and Kevin) and other physical defensive tackles cave in the interior of the Bear line way too many times. It seemed as though Kreutz, who at that point had played in the NFL for more than a decade, simply couldn't hold the point any more against powerful foes.

But last year was different. Amid reports he was healthier than he had been in a while, Kreutz seemed to have found more ways to use veteran guile to at least achieve stalemates against his strongest foes. The Bear offensive line was a train wreck early on but after the disaster against the Giants (almost a dozen sacks allowed) in the middle of the season, the team finally found a combination at guard and tackle that wasn't a mess. Kreutz then led the way back to some semblance of respectability and the playoffs.

This offseason, if the Bears had brought in a stud interior lineman to give Kreutz and the team's guards some competition with an eye on replacing the veteran in the middle at some point, it would have been understandable. But for the Bears to have dumped their forever center at this late date, over what amounts to a pittance in the NFL (less than a million bucks) is mind-boggling.

From the reports I've read, former Seahawk center Chris Spencer (signed as Kreutz's potential replacement on Sunday) sounds like a smart enough and big enough guy to be a decent piece in the Bear offensive line puzzle. But the absolute first thing that has to happen as the team goes forward is Roberto Garza moving in at center. Garza has by far the most experience in the middle of the Bears line and knows all the calls.

He has played some center but it has been awhile (he has played guard exclusively for about a half-dozen years). And if he can't hack the snapping, then Spencer is obviously the man.

Of course for Garza to move over, the Bears need to bring in another free agent - someone who can be a physical presence at guard (which in an understandable local NFL world would have been the second priority this offseason after re-signing Kreutz). If Spencer wasn't physical enough to play center for the Seahawks it is hard to imagine he will be strong enough to make an impact one spot over for the Bears.

And if the Bears are busy trying to track down another guard, they almost certainly won't be addressing the situation at tackle. If there are no more changes at that position during the preseason, the Bears will probably start the season with a rookie on one side (Gabe Carimi) and second-year seventh-round pick (J'Marcus Webb) on the other. Yikes.

Another troubling thing about Spencer is that he was drafted by Tim Ruskell, the former Seattle GM who is now Jerry Angelo's right-hand man. Going into the 2005 draft, Spencer was seen as, at best, a late-second round pick. But the Seahawks had a need in the middle of their line and Ruskell reached to take the former Ole Miss standout in the first round. Spencer had what must be described as a mediocre career in Seattle, culminating in his recent release by that team.

This has a little of the feel of former Blackhawk GM Dale Tallon trading for Brian Campbell earlier this summer. Just about everyone believed Tallon overpaid for Campbell a couple years ago when the former Hawk GM signed him to a huge, eight-year deal averaging more than seven million per. And sure enough, when Campbell didn't grab a spot in the Hawks' top defensive pairing and wasn't the first guy the team went to in short-handed situations, it became clear that his large salary (biggest on the team) was going to be a problem.

Except Tallon, who is now generally managing the Florida Panthers, went out and got Campbell again this off-season, taking him off the Hawks' hands in a trade for a couple nobodies. It was a transaction current general manager Stan Bowman must have been thrilled to make.

Now Tallon can see to it that Campbell gets his big chance to be the No. 1 defenseman for the Panthers. And Ruskell and Jerry Angelo can show just what a good first-round pick Spencer was in the middle of the last decade.

Double yikes.

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Comments welcome.


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