Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
One of the Bears’ best games this season was one of the worst for J’Marcus Webb. In a 16-0 victory over the Dolphins in a nationally televised Thursday night game in Miami on Nov. 18, the rookie right tackle was called for holding three times, for illegal use of hands once and also allowed a sack.
That gave the seventh-round pick from West Texas A&M 10 penalties in six NFL starts — fourth most in the league at the time.
Since then, Webb has not been penalized in the last three games. That doesn’t mean he’s great. But considering that 6-7, 328-pound seventh-round draft picks rarely get the benefit of the doubt from the officials, it’s a pretty good indicator that he’s getting better.
‘‘He’s a guy that takes undue heat,’’ Bears offensive line coach Mike Tice said. ‘‘I read something in the bathroom when I was reading the paper about how he gave up the first sack [against the Patriots last week] and he gave up a pressure on the interception. And the last two games J’Marcus has graded out as high as he’s graded out all year.
‘‘Not [to point fingers], but the first sack was not on the offensive line. [But] because J’Marcus was the nearest player to the guy that sacked the quarterback, the sack goes to J’Marcus.’’
That’s just a cynical habit for fans and media following a team that has such a poor record of drafting and developing offensive linemen. Guard Chris Williams’ 26th start last week broke the team record for starts by an offensive lineman drafted by Jerry Angelo previously held by guard Terrence Metcalf. Webb, with nine consecutive starts at right tackle, is on target for Williams’ Angelo-era record of 11 starts at offensive tackle. He could break that against the Jets on Dec. 26 at Soldier Field.
‘‘He’s proceeding solidly,’’ Tice said. ‘‘There are some things that I just can’t get fixed at a fast-enough pace — some repeat technique flaws more than anything.
‘‘But he’s minimized his mental mistakes, which is a key because early on, there were a lot of them. [And it] means he’s starting to understand what we’re doing. He’s finishing decently and his technique is getting better. I just have to remember that he’s from West Texas A&M and a seventh-round pick. I have to keep it in perspective.’’
The soft-spoken Webb, who played at Texas as a freshman before transferring to Navarro junior college and then to West Texas, said he has gotten over jitters that cause mental errors and technique issues when he became a starter at right tackle against Carolina in October.
‘‘I take a lot of pride in my job and look to get better every week,’’ he said. ‘‘In the Miami game, the penalties were technique issues. I cleaned those things up as quick as possible and moved on.’’
Webb is far from established as an NFL tackle. But for now, progress will have to do. As center Olin Kreutz pointed out, Webb is learning a blocking scheme that everybody else on the line is learning at the same time.
‘‘It’s not like he has a tackle who’s played in the system for four or five years telling him, ‘Look, this is what to expect. This is what could happen,’ ’’ said Kreutz a 13-year veteran and six-time Pro Bowl center. ‘‘He’s learning on the run and we’re learning on the run. It’s a difficult situation for him. He’s done a hell of a job adapting to it.
‘‘I feel very comfortable with J’Marcus out there. He’s come a long way from being drafted in the seventh round.’’
But on a team with playoff aspirations, that Webb is better than he was might not be enough. While teams have made the playoffs with rookies at offensive tackle, it’s rarely someone drafted in the seventh round. Only one team in the last 30 years has reached the Super Bowl with a rookie tackle who was drafted lower than the second round — the Falcons in 1999 with Ephraim Salaam, a seventh-round pick. The last playoff team with a rookie tackle drafted lower than the second round was the Redskins in 2007, with undrafted free agent Stephon Heyer.
It’s likely the Bears will have to improve at that position between now and the playoffs.
‘‘But we don’t know that,’’ Tice said. ‘‘We don’t know that he won’t be good enough a month from now. I see progress. He’s had passing grades the last two games — for the first time all year. And they weren’t close. They were solidly passing games, based on the grading scale I’ve been using for the past 15 years.
‘‘When I track his grades I see [consistent] progress. When I see [inconsistency] with a player, then I’m looking to replace him.’’
Webb doesn’t seem too fazed at the importance of solid tackle play on a playoff team.
‘‘I wouldn’t sit here and downgrade myself and say I’m not ready,’’ he said with a laugh. ‘‘Just say I’m all smiles and prepared for anything that comes my way, because my coaches and this team will put me in the right position.’’