J'Marcus Webb Should Be the Chicago Bears' Left Tackle in 2013
There is no doubt the Bears offensive line needs to improve and Webb was a part of the problem. Still, he's not as bad as many Bears fans think and has the potential to be very good.
While being the whipping boy for many fans and even his quarterback, Webb was quietly the Bears' best offensive lineman in 2012. He finished with a Pro Football Focus rating of -0.7; not good, but much better than anyone else. The next closest lineman was Lance Louis, who rated at -1.8 in significantly fewer snaps, largely because he couldn't run-block.
While being the best lineman on the Bears is kind of like being the tallest dwarf, Webb wasn't terrible compared to the rest of the league. He ranked 35th amongst all tackles in Pass Blocking Efficiency on PFF; not good, but not awful.
Many fans have clamored for new offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer to be reunited with New Orleans free-agent left tackle Jermon Bushrod, but that could be a downgrade for the Bears. Bushrod ranked 45th on PFF and gave up one hurry every 15.7 snaps, compared to Webb's rate of one every 20.5.
Even in his best season—2011—Bushrod gave up a hurry every 21.4 snaps—and that was with better linemen around him, allowing the Saints to give him more help.
Bushrod is a better run-blocker—thus earned a slightly better overall grade from PFF—but Webb also has a much higher upside, being four years younger. If Bushrod is an upgrade, it would be slight and not worth the salary cap room that could be spent on other upgrades.
Price is an important factor to keep in mind. There are some premium left tackles available in Ryan Clady and Branden Albert, but they would use up most of the Bears' salary cap space. Considering left tackle is already their best position on the line, it doesn't seem wise to spend most of their money for that specific spot.
The Bears could likely get a good right tackle and a starting guard for less money than it would take to sign a left tackle. If they can solidify the right tackle spot, they would be able to help Webb out more with extra blockers if they needed to. That is something they couldn't do much of a year ago due to the gaping hole on the right side.
The other avenue in which the Bears could improve the position is the draft. If a player falls to them and is the best on the board, they shouldn't hesitate to take him; however, it doesn't seem likely. There aren't many rookies who can step in and solidify the left tackle spot right away.
Many people have forgotten Webb's background and the fact that he still was always viewed as a project. There's plenty of time for him to reach his potential. Although he just finished his third season, Webb is just 24 years old, only a year older than Minnesota's Matt Kalil, who just finished his rookie season.
While Kalil made a seamless transition to the NFL, he did so from a major university—USC—where he saw top defensive players in nearly every game and every day in practice. Webb is from West Texas A&M, was drafted in the seventh round, was expected to be a project with potential and has proved to be exactly that. The Bears coaches put him in a bad situation by throwing him into the fire as a rookie.
While right tackle Gabe Carimi struggled physically, Webb's struggles have been mostly mental. He has a massive frame and moves incredibly well for his size. From a physical standpoint, he has almost everything anyone could want in a left tackle; it's just a matter of tapping into that potential.
What has gone mostly unnoticed is Webb's improvement, which has been both consistent and dramatic since he entered the league.
As a rookie right tackle in 2010, Webb's gave up a hurry nearly every 11 snaps to go with 11 sacks and 11 penalties, according to PFF. Last season, he gave up a hurry every 19 snaps, to go with 12 sacks and 14 penalties. However, this past season his sack total dropped to seven and he committed eight penalties.
If he continues to improve at this rate, he isn't just going to be a serviceable left tackle—he's going to be a very good one.
One of the most interesting parts of the Bears' 2013 season will be to see how a change in offensive line coaches will impact them.
Former line coach and coordinator Mike Tice came in with a good reputation, but couldn't get his line ranked higher than 30th on PFF in any of his three seasons. Since Kromer took over the Saints line in 2009, they have not ranked lower than 17th.
Some of his former Saints players spoke glowingly about their former coach, who has turned late picks and undrafted players into Pro Bowl-caliber performers. He's succeeded with multiple tackles, guards and centers.
If Kromer can get the most out of Webb, the Bears won't need a new left tackle. There aren't many in the league who are more talented.
Webb won't turn 25 until the Bears start camp next season. As he has continued to grow and mature as a man, he has improved as a player. If that growth continues, the Bears already have the cornerstone of their line.
While it's hard to be patient at such an important position, there is plenty of reason to believe their patience will ultimately pay off.
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