By Dan Durkin-
(CBS) As refreshing as it was to hear Bears offensive coordinator Mike Tice speak so candidly about the disappointing debut of his offensive line, it didn’t sit well with me. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed being able to set aside my ‘It’s Always Sunny At Halas Hall’ decoder ring for a moment, and hear a critical performance evaluation from a Bears employee.
Tice was passive aggressive, referring to J’Marcus Webb as the “other player” not being up to the standards the Bears are trying to set in protecting the quarterback. Sorry, Mike, but you can’t have this one both ways. As a guy who has tried to sell everyone on Webb for the past two seasons, you only have yourself to blame for the rotten situation unfolding on Jay Cutler’s blind side.
Tice has earned a reputation as one of the NFL’s best offensive line coaches. Dating back to his playing days, Tice was, in essence, an offensive tackle masquerading as a blocking tight end. That very reputation Tice has worked hard to earn is on the line with Webb, who if you recall, reportedly endeared himself to Tice by chipping his tooth during a bag drill on a pre-draft visit. Bears fans can only hope that Tice saw more in Webb than just a guy bigger than him with a strong punch.
Webb has been Tice’s pet project for three seasons now, and the results just haven’t been there. Webb started 12 games as a rookie at right tackle and stood out for not only his massive size, but also for being frequently overmatched, surrendering nine sacks.
In Webb’s sixth career start against the Dolphins, his deficiencies really crystallized for me while watching him attempt to block the Dolphins’ speedy Cameron Wake. Once engaged with Wake, Webb’s feet stopped moving, forcing him to either reach out and grab, or just relinquish the edge and cave the pocket. In coach speak Webb didn’t appear to be a natural “knee bender” who can sink his hips and shuffle along with his blocking assignment.
This made it all the more curious to hear the rhetoric coming from Halas Hall last offseason about the massive progress made by Webb, and that a shift to the left tackle position was inevitable. The rhetoric turned out to be true, Webb did become the starter at left tackle, and was statistically the NFL’s worst, logging 15 penalties and 12 sacks surrendered.
It’s fair to speculate that Tice felt having a full offseason to work with Webb would correct these mistakes, and his faith in Webb may have led the Bears to pass on a tackle in the draft. The early returns show that this was a miscalculation.
Against the Broncos, Webb’s footwork was still a mess, he let a rusher inside of him twice when he had running back help on the outside with a chip, a false start, and surrendered a sack. He couldn’t block 3rd/4th string Broncos, who in two weeks, will be looking for work elsewhere.
Moving Chris Williams back into the mix at left tackle doesn’t do much of anything for me, as Williams has already failed as a left tackle in the NFL. Despite the bevy of cuts on the horizon, teams just don’t cast off left tackles. The free agent market is thin, but if Webb continues to struggle, the Bears must consider kicking the tires on guys like Chad Clifton or Jeff Otah. You can scheme all you want to not expose anyone who isn’t up to par, but eventually one-on-one battles must be won.
The Bears are built to win now, which makes Tice’s decision to again hitch the Bears wagon to Webb all that more critical, and potentially disastrous. Guys like Clay Matthews, Chris Long, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Charles Johnson, Aldon Smith, and Jared Allen will be knocking on Webb’s door this season, so Bear fans hope there isn’t a do not disturb sign hanging from the handle.
Tice said he will have trouble sleeping at night until he knows his quarterback is protected. I understand that Tice is trying to light a fire under Webb, but is airing grievances with the media really going to do anything? To me, the issue with Webb has more to do with a lack of talent than a lack of focus or motivation.
For Tice’s sake, he’d better hope that when he does get a restful night’s sleep, the tooth fairy brings him a capable left tackle. As you can have all the weapons you want on the edge, but Cutler can’t complete passes lying on his back.
Dan Durkin joined The Score’s columnist community after finishing runner-up in the 2011 Pepsi Max Score Search. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois where he was a member of the men’s football team (despite his best efforts to join the women’s team). Dan is a longtime Scorehead, known as Dan in Wicker Park – even though he no longer resides in Wicker Park – who will be sharing NFL analysis and opinions. You can follow Dan on Twitter @djdurkin. To read more of Dan’s blogs click here.