BOURBONNAIS, Ill. – For all the optimism after that offseason makeover, the Chicago Bears are facing some familiar questions.
Many center on the offensive line.
You know, thats fine, tackle Chris Williams said. Well take the challenge. Well come out and work hard every day.
How high the payoff is could go a long way toward determining whether the Bears meet their goals. They believe they have the talent to make a run to the Super Bowl after adding Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall and depth throughout the roster, but the image of Jay Cutler running for his life and being driven like a nail into the turf far too often is difficult to shake.
So is the cold, hard fact that the line has ranked among the leagues worst the past few years, and on a team with most of the starting spots locked up, Williams finds himself in one of the most heated competitions. Hes in a race for the job at left tackle with incumbent JMarcus Webb, and offensive coordinator Mike Tice made one thing clear: It is open.
Its going to be a dogfight for those two guys, he said. Im not going to put up with any (garbage) as far as turning guys free and not protecting the quarterback.
Were going to keep the heat on both of them, and we want to see when we get in pads whos going to block our good pass rushers, Tice added. I know they can both run block, but were not going to go out there and run the ball 50 times a game, so youve got to be able to protect. If they cant protect, they cant play for us.
Protecting Cutlers blind side has been a big problem for the Bears since the strong-armed quarterback arrived from Denver in 2009, particularly the past two years when Mike Martz was the offensive coordinator. He was sacked a league-leading 75 times during that span even though he missed the final six games last season because of a broken right thumb.
Martzs reliance on seven-step drops certainly didnt help a line that just wasnt a good fit for that scheme. Injuries were a factor, too, and so was simply poor play in the trenches.
Webb started all 16 games at left tackle last season after starting 12 at right tackle the previous year. He allowed 14 sacks, tied for most in the league (Guy Whimper, Jacksonville) and the 13 offensive penalties against him were the worst among any offensive player in the NFL, according to STATS LLC.
Williams and Webb split time with the first team during offseason workouts and minicamp.
It doesnt affect me too much, Webb said. You just got to come out here and do your job, get better every day and help your team out.
For Williams, its another chance to deliver the way the Bears hoped he would as a first-round draft pick in 2008.