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Bears need J’Marcus Webb or Chris Williams to excel at left tackle

Bears offensive lineman Chris Williams (74) started nine games guard last season. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

Bears offensive lineman Chris Williams (74) started nine games at guard last season. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: August 28, 2012 6:23AM

BOURBONNAIS — The questions came in various forms, and Bears offensive tackle J’Marcus Webb sidestepped each with diplomatic responses.

Asked if the competition with Chris Williams is ramped up now that training camp has started, Webb said, “No, I just got to come in here and focus on myself and focus on getting better every day.”

Webb, though, couldn’t stop himself from laughing.

“You’re trying to get me to say something crazy,” he said.

Well, the truth wouldn’t be so bad.

But Webb is honoring an unwritten policy of Bears offensive linemen: avoid controversial statements at all costs.

Webb and Williams downplayed their competition at left tackle on Thursday, even though it’s the elephant in the room.

Williams said such questions are news to him.

“I don’t listen to people,’’ Williams said when asked about the offensive line tempering the team’s high expectations. ‘‘I don’t really hear what they say, so that’s probably the first time I’ve heard that. You know, that’s fine. We’ll take the challenge. We’ll come out and work hard every day.”

Webb got that memo, too — “You just got to come out here and do your job, get better every day and help your team out,” he said — but Mike Tice, promoted from offensive line coach to offensive coordinator, didn’t mince words in putting perspective on the battle to cover quarterback Jay Cutler’s blind side.

Asked if the starting job was Webb’s to lose, Tice said, “No, it’s not his job to lose.

“He happened to be in there first because of the fact that he finished the season as a starter. It’s going to be a dogfight for those two guys. I’m not going to put up with any crap as far as turning guys free and not protecting the quarterback.

“I just told you I have too many athletes to not be able to throw the football explosively.”

The opening training-camp practice at Olivet Nazarene University wasn’t all that telling because the players were in shorts. Webb mostly handled snaps with the starters, although Williams occasionally rotated in.

Neither completely embarrassed — nor distinguished — himself.

The first real test comes Saturday night in the first fully padded practice.

“We’re going to keep the heat on both of them,” Tice said, “and we want to see when we get in pads who’s going to block our good pass rushers. I know they can both run- block, but we’re not going to go out there and run the ball 50 times a game, so you’ve got to be able to protect.

“If they can’t protect, they can’t play for us.”

Webb, who has started 28 games the last two seasons since being drafted in the seventh round, has had his share of ups and downs. Williams was selected 14th overall in the 2008 draft but was switched to guard. Last season, he played well at guard in nine starts until dislocating his wrist.

“I’m just excited to get back on the field; I’m just excited to play ball again,” he said.

Last week, captain Roberto Garza noted how physically impressive Williams was in their workouts. Williams was among the most active in joining Garza in the workouts, which were on off days.

“He’s getting more explosive,” Garza said. “Now he’s in a position to fight for that left-tackle position.

“It’s big for him and J’Marcus.”

Once in a while, if there’s an unfortunate injury, a team can find a serviceable option via free agency. But given the importance of the position, there doesn’t seem to be much available. Marcus McNeill is at the top of the list, but he has had an assortment of injuries, most notably to his neck.

The Bears are hopeful that Williams or Webb will rise to the occasion, making such concerns a moot point.

“It is exciting,” Williams said of the offense’s potential, “and, like I said, anything can pop at any time with these guys.

“We just have to hold up our end of the bargain, and they’ll take care of theirs.”

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