Chicago Bears: JMarcus Webb

Bears draft preview: Tackle

April, 15, 2012
StephensonMatthew Emmons/US PresswireOklahoma tackle Donald Stephenson could be a late-round option for the Bears.

Regarding the upcoming NFL draft, Chicago’s situation at offensive tackle seems to be one of extremes.

On one hand, the team indicates a level of comfort with the current group at the position, which includes Gabe Carimi and J’Marcus Webb as the starters. On the other, there’s trepidation about whether Carimi, a year removed from being selected in the first round, will fully recover from last year’s season-ending knee injury combined with uneasiness about continuing with Webb as quarterback Jay Cutler’s blindside protector.

Bears coach Lovie Smith spoke about the position -- specifically Webb -- back in March at the NFL owners meetings.

“Every tackle in the league can look bad at times,” Smith said. “There are some things you have to do to help him out a little bit more at times, which we plan to do. You can make a case and throw out stats on what [Webb] did, but I think it’s hard for all tackles in the league to block Julius Peppers from time to time. We have a good plan at the left tackle. We have all our options open right now. But if we end up playing J’Marcus Webb at left tackle next year, we’ll be comfortable with that.”

But what happens if one of the top prospects falls into the team’s lap at No. 19 later this month during the NFL Draft?

While addressing the team’s aging defense or adding to the receiver position seems to make the most sense, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the team bolster tackle in the draft, whether through a first-round pick or later selection. The team appears to be interested in adding at the position at some point prior to the start of training camp.

The club reportedly held a private workout with Oklahoma tackle Donald Stephenson, projected to be a fourth- or fifth-round pick.

Publicly, though, the team maintains confidence in the current group. According to Pro Football Focus, Webb ranked as the worst full-time starter at left tackle in the NFL in 2011, and was responsible for 38 quarterback pressures. Furthermore, Webb was penalized a team-high 15 times, resulting in eight stalled drives.

Smith said that adding an offensive tackle in free agency would have sent the wrong message.

“That would be saying we don’t feel comfortable with our left tackle, and that’s not the case.”

Perhaps it will be during the NFL draft.

The next 10: 11. Tom Compton, South Dakota, 6-5, 314; 12. Matt McCants, Alabama-Birmingham, 6-6, 308; 13. Matt Reynolds, Brigham Young, 6-5, 302; 14. Tony Bergstrom, Utah, 6-5, 313; 15. Nate Potter, Boise State, 6-6, 303; 16. Andrew Datko, Florida State, 6-6, 315; 17. Jeff Adams, Columbia, 6-6, 306; 18. Bryce Harris, Fresno State, 6-6, 302; 19. Lamar Holmes, Southern Mississippi, 6-5, 323; 20. Marcel Jones, Nebraska, 6-6, 320.

Position grade: B.

Analysis: Some of the anticipated changes to the Bears' offense might alleviate the need to acquire an offensive tackle during the draft, and open the door for more upgrades on defense. Perhaps that’s why the Bears continue to say they’re fine up front. It’s important to note that of the 23 sacks Cutler suffered in 10 games, 18 of them came in the first five games before the Bears made changes to get the ball out of the quarterback’s hands more quickly, while adding help in the protection by keeping in tight ends and sending running backs to the edges to chip. The Bears expect to do more of that in 2012, which is why it’s highly unlikely the team targets an offensive tackle high in the draft.

NEW ORLEANS -- Seven combined starts in 2010 provided ample opportunity for Chicago Bears backup offensive linemen Lance Louis and Edwin Williams to assert themselves as favorites in Operation Rebuild 2011 along the offensive line.

Unfortunately, though, the duo failed to deliver when called upon, according to Bears coach Lovie Smith.

“If you just be a team player, eventually, you’re gonna really get a chance to prove whether you can play or not, and you need to take advantage of your opportunity,” Smith said. “Lance hasn’t taken advantage of his opportunity. Edwin did not take advantage of his opportunity, or hasn’t taken advantage of the opportunity yet. We still like those guys. They’re young players that are in the system.”

[+] EnlargeChris Williams
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesThe Bears are hoping Chris Williams can develop somewhere along the offensive line.
Which isn’t necessarily the place either would like to be heading into 2011 considering the team has stated adamantly that it’s in desperate need of a makeover. The offensive line allowed a league-high 56 sacks on Bears quarterbacks Jay Cutler, Caleb Hanie and Todd Collins with the unit going through five combinations of starters through the first eight games.

Louis entered last season as the starter at right guard, and started the first four games before bruising his left knee during a brutal performance against the New York Giants in which Cutler suffered a concussion as a result of absorbing an NFL-record nine sacks in the first half.

Williams replaced Louis and started the next three games before losing his spot to Roberto Garza, who moved from the left side to the right after missing two games because of arthroscopic knee surgery.

The ineffectiveness of Louis and Williams in starting stints doesn’t necessarily relegate them to backup roles for the rest of their tenures with the team. But having already seen how Louis and Williams performed under fire in 2010, the Bears will explore elsewhere first before coming back to the duo in their search for pieces in the rebuilding effort up front.

Smith and general manager Jerry Angelo both said they have an idea of how they would like the Bears' offensive line to look in 2011. But Angelo pointed out all the “moving parts” associated with the acquisition of talent brought about by the NFL lockout, which has put free agency on hold until there’s a new collective bargaining agreement.

Without the opportunity to deal in free agency now, the Bears might be forced to replenish talent for the offensive line by rebuilding through the draft, which is a shaky proposition. Smith said the Bears typically begin the offseason conditioning program shortly after they return from the NFL owners meetings, which wrapped up on Tuesday. During that time, players would normally be at the facility working out, watching film, and building the camaraderie necessary for cohesion at positions such as the offensive line.

There’s also the possibility of players hindering any attempt to rebuild up front by reporting to the team after the lockout out of shape. Smith and offensive line coach Mike Tice said they are not worried about such a prospect.

"Chris Williams has been all over the offensive line. J’Marcus [Webb] has a little flexibility of whether he can play left [tackle] or right [tackle]. [Starting left tackle] Frank Omiyale: same thing, [as well as] Roberto Garza. They’ve all played across. We just have to see what the total group looks like first. That’s an area that we’ve said that we would like to improve.”

Firming up the ever-shifting offensive line is an offseason project in itself, especially with regard to Chris Williams, a former first-rounder who was drafted to be the left tackle of the future, but wound up starting 11 regular-season games last season at right guard.

Smith wants to find a permanent position for Chris Williams, and admitted that although he played well on occasion, the left guard battled frustrating spurts of inconsistency.

Olin Kreutz
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesLovie Smith said he would like to see veteran center Olin Kreutz return for a 15th season with the Bears.
“One of the offseason projects is just really working and trying to figure out exactly where to play him and try to get him there,” Smith said. “I’m not running away from the question, but he made progress; did some good things last year. We liked some of the things he was able to do. Chris would be the first one to tell you there were other times when the play wasn’t as good as it needed to be. I’m anxious to see Chris go through an entire season healthy, and hopefully have him in the same spot. That’s the plan.”

Of course as the team continues to demonstrate, that could change based on talent acquisition through the draft and free agency, and whether the Bears can retain their own players. Smith said the team would like to re-sign veteran center Olin Kreutz, an unrestricted free agent, while Angelo seemed a bit non-committal about the notion.

Angelo said Louis and Williams both possessed the skill set to possibly play center, which might mean yet another shot for the duo that seemingly squandered its opportunities in 2010. The team also will need to determine what to do at the tackle spots with right tackle Webb -- who Smith said is talented enough to switch to the left side -- and left tackle Frank Omiyale, an aging veteran who was also inconsistent in 2010.

“I just want to make sure everything plays itself out as we go through these periods of allocating players that we get the five best players on the field,” Angelo said. “Anybody who’s in this business and understands personnel, it’s every bit about the continuity and the five players playing together. It’s as critical as the talent of the five players themselves. I’m not underscoring talent; that’s very important. The goal is to get your five talented players playing at the same time. That’s what we want to do.”

Smith echoed that sentiment, while expressing uncertainty about the look of the 2011 Bears offensive line. All everyone associated with the Bears organization knows is the unit needs to perform much better for Cutler to cash on his immense physical skills to take Mike Martz’s potentially explosive offense to new heights in Year 2 of the team’s foray into the system.

“We don’t know for sure what the group will look like,” Smith said. “If you just say, ‘Hey, you guys went with this group’, but you know, unless you’re talking about [linebacker] Brian Urlacher, Jay Cutler and [defensive end] Julius Peppers, it’s pretty hard for me to tell you exactly, and [have] you hold me to it [about] where they’re gonna play. That’s the exciting part about the offseason: putting those pieces together to get that best group.”

Webb promising but question looms

May, 25, 2010
Early reviews from Chicago Bears minicamp indicated what most already knew about rookie tackle J’Marcus Webb.

He possesses prototypical size, and natural athleticism, yet offensive line coach Mike Tice points out one simple but striking deficiency in the rookie’s game.

“What he needs to understand is what it takes to get better,” Tice said. “What it takes to get better, first and foremost, is to accept coaching. Then he’s got to take that coaching, go out and work on his trade.”

Considered a project player coming out of West Texas A&M, Webb seemed to draw criticism from talent evaluators for what they considered questionable work ethic, a lack of intelligence, and undesirable comportment at the Texas vs. the Nation all-star game practices.

One Southwest region evaluator from an NFC team said he visited the campus of West Texas A&M on multiple occasions prior to the draft to see Webb -- who was never available -- causing the scout to question whether the tackle had issues with accountability.

“It felt to me like the folks out there always covered for him,” the scout said.

Such coddling isn’t likely to occur for Webb in the NFL, which is a point that Tice is likely driving home to the rookie. A dominating run blocker who cracked the starting lineup at Texas before transferring to West Texas A&M, Webb started 11 of 12 games at left tackle for the Buffalos. West Texas A&M played games against two top-ranked teams (Grand Valley State and Abilene Christian, which both spent time ranked No. 1 last season), No. 6 Central Washington, No. 7 Tarleton State and No. 10 Texas A&M-Kingsville, and Webb gave up just one sack all season.

“He’s got a world of talent,” Tice said. “He’s been blessed with size, quickness. He’s smart; scored nearly 1,300 on the SAT. Once he learns to accept coaching and what it takes to get better, I think he’s got a bright future in this league.”