Bears OT J’Marcus Webb will likely be protecting Jay Cutler’s blind side
NEIL HAYES ON THE BEARS July 12, 2011 11:24PM
J’Marcus Webb started 12 games at right tackle as a rookie and is expected to be the starting left tackle this season. | Jonathan Daniel~Getty Images
Updated: July 13, 2011 5:03AM
No Bear was asked to do more than J’Marcus Webb last season. For an encore, the 2010 seventh-round pick can expect a more daunting assignment.
“I was thrown to the wolves, but at the same time, I had to be a professional and step up and do the job they asked me to do,” he said. “Early on, it was definitely tough, but once you start to live and learn, you see that things aren’t as challenging as they seem. I just had to step in and do a good job. That was the only thing on my mind.”
Whether the Bears can make another deep playoff run will depend on the improvement of an offense that was 30th in yards and 21st in points last season. The success of the offense hinges on more consistent play from a line that allowed a league-high 56 sacks. Solidifying the left-tackle position is the key to improving the line.
The leading candidate to protect Jay Cutler’s blind side is the same former West Texas A&M unknown who was hurled into the starting lineup at right tackle as a rookie last season. Add it up, and Webb’s ability to play the line’s most important position could determine how the Bears fare in 2011.
“It would definitely be a jump,” Webb said of playing left tackle. “The opposing team’s best guys are over there. If and when our coaches put me there or give me the chance, I’ll be ready. I’m a competitor. I have that competitive fight in me.”
Webb never has met Gabe Carimi but realizes the plan calls for him and the 2011 first-round pick to anchor the line into the future. Carimi played left tackle at Wisconsin but is expected to play right when training camp begins. Webb played left tackle in college before starting 12 games at right tackle in 2010.
Expect all eyes to be on Webb when the lockout ends.
“He had a big role to play and did a great job,” veteran defensive end Israel Idonije said. “The kid works hard. We’re looking for him to take another big step. He’s got a great opportunity.”
The absence of organized team activities during the lockout won’t hurt Brian Urlacher or Lance Briggs. Veteran center Olin Kreutz, a free agent, knows what he must do to prepare himself for the upcoming season. Cutler has been throwing to teammates four days a week.
Those hurt most are players such as Webb, who could use more time with line coach Mike Tice to make the transition to the left side. Carimi would be in a better position to compete for a starting job had he been able to acclimate himself to the pro game, get to know his teammates and learn offensive coordinator Mike Martz’s playbook.
“It has been a little tough, the whole lockout thing, not having contact or steady workouts with the team,” said Webb, who has been splitting time between Chicago and Texas this offseason. “I definitely would’ve benefitted from being around the coaches and the camaraderie we have as a group, but I don’t think there’s going to be a drop-off with my play. I knew I had to get stronger, and I’ve been working out on my own. I don’t think it will hurt me so much as give me a greater sense of urgency.”
Webb won’t have to worry about tiptoeing around veterans and watching what he says like he did as a rookie. At least he wasn’t expected to pick up dinner checks last season like rookies drafted before him. Knowing he was one of the lowest-paid players on the team, Kreutz wouldn’t allow it.
Webb handed his keys to the valet and adjusted the tie around his massive neck before entering a recent event benefitting the Gridiron Greats. That the 6-7, 330-pounder was in much demand at the fundraiser illustrates just how dramatically his life has changed in the last year.
More change is coming.
“It will just be my second year in the league,” Webb said. “I have a lot to learn. I need more reps. I just have to come with an open mind and contribute as much as I did or even more.’’