Four Down Territory, March 13: Weighing the options at right tackle

SHARE Four Down Territory, March 13: Weighing the options at right tackle

Busy day so let’s get to it. We’ll reach for the mailbag three times next week–Monday, Wednesday and Friday–as the minicamp from Tuesday to Thursday is going to alter our schedule. Send your questions in now.

Q: Do you think it would be a prudent move to look at Kevin Shaffer, released by the Browns, as another option to the John St. Clair waiting game? He’s an eight-year veteran that is younger than St. Clair. Shaffer failed as a left tackle but performed reasonably well as a right tackle, especially two seasons ago.

Adam P. Winnipeg, Manitoba

A: Shaffer would be worth a look but after polling some people around the league, the feeling is there is a chance he will re-sign with the Browns. Shaffer was cut loose by Cleveland on Thursday so the Browns wouldn’t be on the hook for a roster bonus that was due today. We first floated the possibility in our blog post on Thursday when we reported that John Tait had officially filed his retirement papers. Tony Grossi, a longtime Browns’ beat writer, reports that Shaffer is mulling over a return at a reduced salary.

I asked one personnel boss in another city what he would do at right tackle if he was calling the shots for the Bears. Pick between St. Clair, Shaffer and Marvel Smith, another free agent on the street. He said he’d take St. Clair, primarily because he knows the offense. The source said he didn’t like Shaffer and would be too weary of Smith being injured. Thing is, there could be more players heading to the open market. Two league sources said Friday that Cincinnati has been trying to trade offensive tackle Levi Jones for a couple weeks. The belief is if the Bengals can’t find a taker, they will release him soon. Jones has strictly played left tackle and would likely command more money than these other options.

The more we think about this, it’s not going to be catastrophic if St. Clair or another right tackle is not in place for minicamp. It won’t even be a big deal. This is practice without pads. No hitting. This isn’t where an offensive line is built. The offense will be able to run every play in the playbook and then some with Cody Balogh, Pat Mannelly or pick-your-favorite-high school lineman standing over there. Would it be nice to have your starter who is penciled in for the year? Sure. But right tackle or no right tackle, it won’t be an impediment in a session that is nothing but shadow blocking for linemen.

Q: What is the Bears’ history as far as bringing in players for private workouts before the draft and their selection on draft day? Do they use the private visits just for lower-round prospects to not give away their draft plans?

Aaron, Normal, Ill.

A: Typically, the Bears bring in players for official visits to Halas Hall who they are looking at later in the draft or as a possible undrafted free agent. They might want to get to know the player a little better, or get a better handle on a medical issue with a player. That’s not to say the team has never brought in top prospects. Defensive tackle Tommie Harris made a visit in 2004 in the weeks leading up to the draft, coming in the day after the team hosted another tackle, Vince Wilfork. But often times the pre-draft visits are just smokescreens. Obviously, if you’ve got a very high pick, it makes sense to roll a handful of players through because with that kind of investment, you should probably kick the tires as often as you can before you buy. Teams are allowed to bring in a maximum of 30 out-of-town players and these are not for workouts. If you want to work a player out, that has to be done at his school.

Q: With all the talk about the offensive line, how come we never hear much about Dan Buenning? He has good size, was a starter in the league and knows the system now. Do you have a read on him as far as taking a job from one of the guards and upgrading the position?

Duane, Rockford, Ill.

A: I’ve gotten numerous questions regarding Buenning over the last few weeks and we should get a somewhat better idea when we see minicamp next week. With the club paying Frank Omiyale $6.3 million of the $11.5 million in his four-year deal this year, it’s pretty fair to assume the Bears want him to start. If he somehow ends up at right tackle, not out of the realm of possibility, that would open up more room for competition inside. Right now, I think he’s going to be projected as a backup but it’s awful early and things can change. Remember, Buenning got work as the backup center last year. It will be interesting to see who that duty falls to this season. We expect Omiyale to challenge immediately at left guard.

Q: When I hear things like “that guy just ran himself into (or out of) the NFL” with performance at the combine or the campus workouts it makes me wonder what the scouts do all year with game tapes. The Northwestern receiver, Eric Peterman, had big games all year. I frankly have never understood the love affair with 40 times as they are not run when a receiver has been mugged for three quarters, is in pads and perhaps freezing his behind off. What do you think?

Bob K., Chicago

A: You make a good point. Some of the top picks at receiver over the last two decades or so have been some of the fastest guys and they’ve been flat-out busts. But a scout needs more to go on than “he looked fast on film.” It’s a league based on speed and everybody wants more of it. Certainly, game production is more significant. The 40 times are what help people separate when it comes to evaluation time. What the scouts do, or try to do, is also judge a player’s game speed. Some of the fastest guys out there don’t play fast on the field when they’re running their routes. They don’t get in and out of breaks cleanly. They don’t have good hips. So there is a lot more that goes into it. Unfortunately, measuring game speed isn’t as simple as clicking a stopwatch, and a kid with Peterman’s size–6-foot, 200 pounds–had better have some speed to him.

Thank you for all of the participation and questions. As always, thanks for reading. Have a good weekend. We’ll check in with a post or two over the weekend or as news dictates.

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