In advance of Bears' training camp, ESPNChicago.com's experts are taking a look at some of the key issues the team must confront in the coming weeks. First up? The uncertainty at left tackle where Chris Williams and J'Marcus Webb are expected to battle for the starting spot.
Michael C. Wright: Left tackle goes down as the area of highest concern in my book as the Bears get geared up for training camp. Although former offensive line coach Mike Tice -- now the offensive coordinator -- seemed reluctant to overly criticize Webb's play at left tackle in 2011, the fact is he simply wasn’t good enough. Obviously the rest of the NFL felt the same way, considering Bears quarterbacks -- according to “Football Outsiders” -- faced Big I blitzes on 13 percent of pass plays.
What’s more is that Webb committed an NFL-high 15 offensive penalties, and according to “Football Outsiders,” he ranked second in the league with 11 ½ blown blocks leading directly to sacks or offensive holding penalties.
So the club’s decision to give Webb competition for the starting job by moving Williams, a former first-round pick, over from guard comes as a welcome decision by the coaching staff. But the verdict is still out on Williams, who struggled somewhat at the position in 2010 before suffering a hamstring injury that eventually led to him moving to guard.
The fact the Bears plan to eliminate seven-step drops should help, along with the club placing an emphasis on pass protection as opposed to getting as many targets out into a route as possible.
From this vantage point, Williams will likely win the job over Webb during training camp. But until the club solidifies this position, quarterback Jay Cutler will never be able to fully realize his potential, regardless of how many top-notch weapons the Bears bring into the fold.
Jeff Dickerson: Most NFL starting jobs are determined long before teams report to training camp in late July. But the Bears appear to have a genuine competition on their hands at left tackle, where Williams and Webb are expected to split reps and fight for the position during the first few weeks of camp. At this point, it’s tough to say which player has the edge after an offseason program devoid of pads or real contact up front. However, the Bears must protect Cutler – sacked 115 times (including playoffs) since 2009 – better this coming season. It all starts at left tackle, the signature position of every offensive line.
Both Williams and Webb find themselves at a career crossroads. The Bears' first pick in the 2008 NFL draft (No. 14), Williams is entering the final year of his contract after spending time at both tackle and guard spots the past several seasons. Webb, a two-year starter, appears to have all the necessary size and athleticism to become a fixture on the line, but for whatever reason, he seems to lack true consistency.
Tice said repeatedly this offseason that the organization did not need to overhaul the line or go out of house to address left tackle in the draft or free agency. If either Williams or Webb steps up and solidifies left tackle, Tice will look like a genius. But if both falter on the left side, it could negate all the moves the Bears made at other positions to strengthen the offense.