Easily the Bears’ biggest roster unknown as the teams gets ready to start training camp is the left tackle position. J’Marcus Webb and Chris Williams have split reps (limited so far) right down the middle this offseason and will continue to do so in camp until someone emerges.
So, who will emerge? Between Phil Emery, Lovie Smith and Mike Tice, the formula for success has been made clear: whoever is more consistent will win the job.
“I feel like we have guys with talent,” Tice said. “Unfortunately, some of it is unrealized talent in terms of not enough consistency. I’m looking for the same thing with all the guys: I’m looking for consistency. To be a hit-or-miss guy doesn’t help us.”
For the most part, both candidates have been hit-or-miss—at best—up until this point.
GM Phil Emery echoed Tice’s sentiment again on Tuesday. “Between [Webb and Williams] we're looking for somebody who’s consistent,” Emery said. “That looks like a consistent starter—someone who can contribute to winning football.”
But it will be difficult to tell which player will provide the Bears with that level of consistent play until the pads go on. Even then, it may be hard to determine who’s pulling ahead until preseason exhibition games begin.
“Normally players tell you exactly who should start and where you stack them on the depth chart,” Lovie Smith said Tuesday. “And that’ll be the case this year. But yes, it comes down to how they perform in the game also.”
The Bears otherwise promising offense is severely threatened by the current lack of solid play at the left tackle position. The offensive line allowed Jay Cutler to be sacked 52 times in 2010, and allowed 49 takedowns in 2011.
Bearing the brunt of that weakness these last few years has been quarterback Jay Cutler, who made it very clear this offseason that whoever wins must step up their game.
“The offensive line is definitely going to be a concern,” Cutler said. “Seeing where those guys fit in and seeing what five we go with. There are some question marks there. Until we really get that resolved, get our front five settled, we've got some work to do on offense.”
J'Marcus Webb started 16 games last season, many of which were difficult to watch from a positional standpoint. Webb had 15 offensive penalties in 2011, and Football Outsiders charged him for 11.5 missed blocks which either resulted in sacks or a holding flag. Pro Football Focus called him the worst LT in the League in 2011.
From the coaches’ perspectives, though, Webb has all the tools. He’s built to play the position, but he also needs to improve his reads and his footwork drastically.
Chris Williams on the other hand has only managed to play one full season of his four here in Chicago. But Williams was drafted to play the position. Having played at both tackle spots in Chicago, and also left guard, Williams has not had a ton of success as a former first-round draft selection.
Williams has improved over the years, however, and is getting toward the end of his rookie contract with the Bears. They need to find out once and for all this season if their former first-rounder can play or not.
Williams does seem suited to the left side of the line at least. In 2009, at the right tackle position, Williams gave up five sacks, nine hits and 27 hurries through 11 games. When the coaches moved him back to the left side, those numbers fell to two sacks, zero hits and seven hurries through five games.
Whoever shows the highest level of consistency in the coming weeks will look to be positioned on Cutler’s blind side.