A career backup tackle and a former third-stringer who briefly moved to center are the two unlikely contenders to start at left guard for the Bears. Chicago coaches deny the job has been won, but they seem to have settled on Frank Omiyale over Josh Beekman.
Frank Omiyale never wanted to play guard.
“I thought of myself as a tackle,” Omiyale said.
Josh Beekman got his first big break at center, starting for the first two weeks of training camp last year when Olin Kreutz was briefly sidelined.
“You’ve got to be versatile,” Beekman said. “You’ve got to show a club you can do multiple things.”
A career backup tackle and a former third-stringer who briefly moved to center are the two unlikely contenders to start at left guard for the Bears. Chicago coaches deny the job has been won, but they seem to have settled on Omiyale, who offensive coordinator Ron Turner said is “more powerful” than Beekman.
“He’s got excellent strength, excellent explosion and quickness off the ball,” Turner said. “It’s a new offense for him. He’s got the natural talent. Now he’s getting comfortable in the system.”
The Bears signed Omiyale, a four-year veteran with one career start, to a four-year contract worth between $11.5 and $14 million after right tackle John Tait retired. When the Bears signed tackles Orlando Pace and Kevin Shaffer, Omiyale became a guard.
“I knew one of the tackle spots was possibly open, and that’s what I was shooting for, but my biggest goal when I came here was to get on the field, and this was my opportunity,” Omiyale said.
Beekman spent minicamp, organized training activities and the first two weeks of training camp with the first team as Omiyale needed time to adjust.
“I was frustrated at first,” Omiyale said. “I want to get it right, right now, but I’m happy where I am at now.
“At tackle, you’ve got more space to work. At guard, you’ve got to get there right now. You’ve got that nose guard sitting right on that shoulder. I’m starting to get pretty good with it. The best thing going for me inside is my arms are longer than the average guard. That’s helped me a lot with my punch.”
If Omiyale starts, Beekman will be demoted. He became Chicago’s most unlikely starter last year when left tackle Chris Williams had back surgery and left guard Terrence Metcalf served an NFL suspension and was then later injured. John St. Clair moved to tackle and Beekman moved from third-stringer to starting left guard.
But the 2007 fourth-round draft pick said he’ll have no complaints if he goes back to the bench, not after Metcalf “helped coach me up every step of the way” last year.
“He showed me how to be a vet,” Beekman said. “You help your teammates, you see what they are doing, and you help make them better because it’s a team sport.”
While Omiyale is slotted in for one position, Beekman divides his time. If Beekman doesn’t start, he’ll be the backup at both guard spots and center. He’s usually the last player off the practice field, getting in extra snaps at center. Turner said Beekman’s value as a versatile lineman won’t be held against him.
“The best guy who is going to help us win is going to play left guard,” Turner said. “But if (Beekman) is not the starting left guard, he will definitely be the backup center. And a good one.”
Matt Trowbridge can be reached at (815) 987-1383 or firstname.lastname@example.org.