Aaron Kromer: Why the Chicago Bears’ Biggest Offensive Line Upgrade May Be the Coach

KromerNFL coaches and players alike always say that the game is won and lost in the trenches. The offensive and defensive lineman are some of the most under-appreciated players in the league, as many fans do not know most of them by name, even though they are such a crucial part of the team. They are what allow offenses and defenses to function properly.

Different defenses value their defensive line more or less than others, but every single offense values their offensive line extremely highly. They keep the quarterback upright and create lanes for the running backs. They are what makes an offense successful. Give any quarterback time to throw, and good things will happen; give any running back an open field, and he’ll make a play. All thanks to that offensive line.

The Chicago Bears have undergone a renovation project with their offensive line. Gone are Gabe Carimi, Chris Spencer, Chilo Rachal, and Lance Louis, all of whom started a significant amount of games for the team in 2012. With J’Marcus Webb switching back to right tackle, the Bears will have new starters at four positions, leaving center Roberto Garza as the only remaining starter.

They placed a premium on bringing in talent, signing left-tackle Jermon Bushrod to a five-year deal early in the free agency period. They later signed veteran guard Matt Slauson to a very inexpensive one-year contract. In the draft, they spent a first-round pick on guard Kyle Long from Oregon and a fifth round pick on tackle Jordan Mills from Louisiana Tech.

Even with all the new players brought in, the biggest addition to the offensive line came before free agency started. On January 16th, the Bears added Aaron Kromer as offensive line coach and offensive coordinator. He is what can make the Bears’ line great.

For those unfamiliar, Kromer was the offensive line coach with the Oakland Raiders when current Bears head coach Marc Trestman was their offensive coordinator. He then became an assistant for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for three seasons before joining the New Orleans Saints as a running backs coach in 2008. In 2009 he became the team’s offensive line coach, and in 2012 he was the Saints’ interim head coach for six games.

Needless to say, he has a lot of experience that he is bringing to the Bears. What really makes him so great is his track record of developing talent and putting excellent offensive lines on the field. His time in New Orleans had many examples of this.

The prime example is guard Jahri Evans. He was drafted by the Saints in the fourth-round of the 2006 draft. He has started every game of every season of his career, but he really took off in 2009, the year Kromer became offensive line coach. 2009 was his first Pro Bowl and First Team All-Pro honors, and he has earned them every season since.

The Saints’ other guard in recent years, Carl Nicks, is another great example of how Kromer has developed players. Nicks was drafted in the fifth round in 2008, and he reached the Pro Bowl in 2010, one year after Kromer came in. In 2011, he reached the Pro Bowl once again, while earning First Team All-Pro honors. That offseason, he signed a big contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, all thanks to Kromer.

The aforementioned Jermon Bushrod was also developed by Kromer. Bushrod was a fourth-round pick in 2007, and he rarely saw the field during his first two seasons. In 2009, when Kromer became offensive line coach, Bushrod became a full time starter, and in 2011 he reached the Pro Bowl. It is great for the Bears that they were able to get both him and his coach.

It isn’t just young players that he has developed. He has made veterans better too. Tackle Jon Stinchcomb was 30 years old when Kromer came in, and in 2009 he reached the Pro Bowl, the only time in his career. Center Jonathan Goodwin was 31 when Kromer became offensive line coach, and he too reached his only Pro Bowl in 2009.

One of the more underrated players that Kromer has developed is center Brian De La Puente. He went undrafted in 2008 and ended up signing with the San Fransisco 49ers. He then joined the Kansas City Chiefs, spending time on their practice squad before being released and claimed by the Seattle Seahawks. He later joined the Carolina Panthers temporarily, before returning to the 49ers briefly and returning to the Seahawks at the beginning of the 2010 season.

Midway through 2010, the Saints signed him to their practice squad and kept him around for the 2011 season. In 2011, they signed former Bears center Olin Kreutz to be their starting center. He however, abruptly decided to retire mid-season. De La Puente was thrown into the fire as the starter and performed quite well, well enough for him to keep the starting job in 2012.

He followed up 2011 with a great season. Pro Football Focus rated him the best player on the Saints offensive line and the second best center in the NFL in 2012, strong in both run blocking and pass blocking. Kromer took a journeyman, practice squad center and made him into one of the best centers in the league.

Think about it. De La Puente showcased his talent to four teams, two of them twice, and he was not able to impress any of them. He comes to the Saints, his sixth opportunity, and he becomes a great player. Why? Aaron Kromer. If De La Puente had shown this ability with any of his previous teams, they wouldn’t have released him. Kromer was able to develop a talent that four other teams couldn’t.

Of course, there is a chance that all five of those players just happened to be peaking when Kromer became the offensive line coach, and maybe he is receiving too much credit for their development, but it really appears like he has been the difference maker.

Kromer is taking this track record of developing players to the Bears, who have a number of young offensive linemen for him to mold. As previously mentioned, the Bears used two draft picks this offseason on offensive lineman. The first, Long, was one of the most raw players in the draft, with only four career starts at guard in college. However, he was one of the most athletic linemen, with some of the best physical tools in the draft.

Long comes in as a blank slate for Kromer to work with. With such little experience and great athleticism, Kromer can really teach him how to be a great offensive lineman. He can get him working with proper mechanics and good habits that will help him blossom into a big time player. Long is willing to learn, and there is not anyone much better than Kromer to teach him.

The other draft pick, Mills, lacks the athleticism of Long, but makes up for it with his strength. He has played both guard and tackle, so he has nice versatility for Kromer to work with. He has some fixable mechanics issues, and it should not be hard for Kromer to straighten him out. He should be a starter within the next few seasons.

It will be interesting to see if Kromer can make either one of them, or both, into Pro Bowlers.

Another young player that will greatly benefit from Kromer is James Brown. An undrafted free agent last season, he was cast into the starting guard spot towards the end of the season and played pretty well considering his lack of experience. He is competing for the starting job this year, and with Kromer’s help, he will likely be an important member of the offensive line for years to come.

Even Webb, who has been in the league for three seasons, will learn a lot from Aaron Kromer. He is in a contract year and needs to show that he can be a stable right tackle in order for him to receive a new deal. He is one of the biggest offensive tackles in the league, but he is sloppy, something that Kromer can fix. Webb has really struggled his first three seasons, but if he shows consistency this year, it will be all thanks to Kromer.

Bears fans should be thrilled with having Kromer as the team’s offensive line coach. He is going to do wonders for this offensive line. It will be interesting to see which of their young guys he can improve the most. The Bears need to get their offensive line straightened out, and Aaron Kromer is the guy to do it. He will be the key for the offense’s success, and in turn, the team’s success. The Bears should feel lucky that they were able to pry him away from the Saints.