No JPP, but Umenyiora still a good LT test

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The health of quarterback Jay Cutler remains priority No. 1 for the Chicago Bears, making recent news the New York Giants plan to hold out defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul for Friday’s game come as a relief.

Still, the expected absence of the Giants’ 2011 sack leader hurts Chicago’s current competition for the starting left tackle position at least a little.

Or does it?

After all, J'Marcus Webb and Chris Williams -- candidates for the starting job -- still face Osi Umenyiora, who in 2010 tied for the team lead in sacks (3) during a Week 4 massacre at the site of Friday’s game, in which the Giants racked up an NFL-record nine sacks of Cutler, in addition to knocking him out of the game in only one half of action.

Despite playing nine games in 2011, Umenyiora finished the season with nine sacks.

“Yeah, I don’t think (the absence of Pierre-Paul hurts evaluation of the left tackle position),” Bears coach Lovie Smith said. “As you said, they still have good players. When one goes down, another steps up. So (I) don’t think that will really affect too much. As you’re evaluating guys, if they’re both playing against the same guy, you can get a good evaluation, and that’s what we’re getting.”

With the starters expected to play into the third quarter at MetLife Stadium, the club plans to start Webb at left tackle, and shuffle in Williams later with the first team. When Williams enters the game, it’s likely the team will also insert Chilo Rachal at Chris Spencer’s left guard spot, a position that also remains up for grabs as the team approaches the regular season.

Spencer recovered in the team’s win over the Washington Redskins from a subpar outing in the exhibition opener against the Denver Broncos. So did Webb, while Williams has produced solid performances in each of his exhibition games.

But the Giants present undoubtedly the club’s most difficult challenge to date this preseason.

“I don’t think anyone else in the league has five, six guys that can rotate in that front four that can play like those guys,” Cutler said. “We’re going to try to help out as much as possible (by shortening drops and calling more extensive protections). But at the end of the game, we’ll have a pretty good idea of what we have up front.”

Speaking specifically about the competition at left tackle, Smith doesn’t expect the team to name the starter after Friday’s game.

Through two preseason contests, the Giants have racked up 13 sacks. So at the very least, the results of this matchup should serve as a strong indicator for the direction the Bears plan to take at left tackle at the end of the preseason.

After all, teams rest starters for the exhibition finale, which for the Bears comes Thursday at Cleveland.

“We’ll know more about it after this week, but as far as it ending, no. We’ll go right up until, of course, the last preseason game, the last practice,” Smith said. “Then we’ll make a decision. But you learn a little bit more every day you go through practice about the guys. We want (one of the candidates at left tackle to outright win the job as soon as possible). But I think each week they are telling us things about it. We haven’t finalized anything just yet.”