The Chicago Bears were fifth worst in the league with 49 sacks allowed in 2011. The team's two-year total of 105 sacks the past two seasons is the worst in the NFL. Jay Cutler has not had solid protections since he arrived in 2009, often looking like a tackling dummy for opposing defensive linemen.
Much of that pressure has come from the blindside, where J'Marcus Webb struggled last year. According to Pro Football Focus, Webb allowed more sacks than any other tackle in the league in 2011.
Offensive coordinator Mike Tice has professed faith in Webb, a former seventh-round draft pick who was playing on the left side for the first time at the NFL level last season. Yet it's obvious the kid just doesn't have the lateral agility and quickness to handle the upper echelon of pass rushers, a few of which reside in the NFC North.
In the season finale last year, Webb looked awful, allowing 3.5 sacks to the Vikings' Jared Allen. It's a bad sign when a player plays his worst game in the final contest of the season, when progress is supposed to have been made.
Webb has experience on both sides of the line, so he would make an ideal swing tackle going forward. The Bears may consider giving Chris Williams another go on the left edge. Another option would be to grab a young tackle in this year's draft that can conceivably serve as the team's long-term answer on the backside.
Here are five tackles Chicago should consider in the first three rounds of the 2012 draft.
**Editor's Note: For our purposes, we will exclude Matt Kalil (USC), Riley Reiff (Iowa) and Jonathan Martin (Stanford) as all three are expected to be off the board once the Bears pick at 19th overall.**
Mike Adams, Ohio State (6-7, 323)
Adams is long, tall and athletic. He has the prototypical build for an NFL left tackle. He has an extremely strong upper body and a thick, wide base. Power rushers don't stand a chance, although speed rushers have been known to get the best of him. He flashes nastiness as a run blocker but often fails to get under the pads of defenders. Adams impressed at the Senior Bowl, dominating UNC's Quinton Coples, a consensus Top 10 DE in this year's draft. His off-the-field issues are a concern – he was suspended two games in 2009 for violating team rules, was arrested for possession of drug paraphernalia in 2009 and missed the first five games in 2011 for his part in the OSU scandal that cost Jim Tressel his job. It's debatable whether he'll be available at 19 for the Bears but if he is, he'll be tough to pass up, as he could be the team's answer at left tackle.
Projected: 1st round
Zebrie Sanders, Florida State (6-5, 308)
Sanders is a good athlete with a solid all-around game. Yet he lacks ideal athleticism on the left side. At the Senior Bowl, he was worked over by the top edge rushers. He's best suited as a right tackle in the NFL, which doesn't fit Chicago's needs, unless they're planning on sliding Gabe Carimi to the blind side.
Projected: 2nd round
Bobby Massie, Mississippi (6-6, 325)
Massie is an experienced player who is a flat-out mauler in the run game. He's nasty in the trenches and uses his huge frame to overpower defenders. He's no slouch in pass protection but his frame and overall skill-set might make him a better fit at right tackle in the pros. Again, the Bears may pass on him unless they feel Carimi is better suited on the left side, or if they are worried he might not be fully recovered from the three knee surgeries he underwent his rookie season.
Projected: 2nd-3rd round
T Nate Potter
Otto Kitsinger III/Getty
Nate Potter, Boise State (6-6, 300)
Potter isn't as wide as some of his counterparts but he has outstanding quickness on the left side. He does well mirroring defenders and shows nice agility. He's reminiscent of Nate Solder, the Patriots' first-round pick last year. He's full of potential and could turn into a quality blindside protector. He's smart as well, earning Academic All-American honors in 2010. He won't be able to start right away but some time under the tutelage of Mike Tice could create a monster.
Projected: 3rd round
Brandon Mosley, Auburn (6-5, 305)
Mosely came to Auburn after playing defensive end in junior college. He started out as a tight end but quickly put on weight and switched to offensive tackle. As such, he's a very raw prospect but one that shows a ton of potential. His svelte frame allows him plenty of quickness and agility. He plays with good knee bend and uses a strong punch with his hands. On pulls and traps, he moves quickly down the line. At the second level, his athleticism helps him stay in front of linebackers. He still needs work as a run blocker but all the signs point toward a draft-day steal. Because of his inexperience, he'll fall into the mid rounds, which would be a perfect time for the Bears to snatch him up. In a year or two, he could be a left-side starter.
Projected: 3rd-4th round
BEAR REPORT PICK
As you can tell, there aren't a lot of pure left tackles in this year's draft. Which means, if Adams is still on the board in the first round, Chicago has to seriously consider making him their first pick. He could provide solid backside protection for Cutler from Day 1.
If the team passes on Adams, they need to strongly consider Potter or Mosley in the third. Both are fairly raw prospects but their build and overall skill-set make them best suited for the left side. Neither is likely to come in and start right away, which could mean another year of Webb at left tackle, but both could be the left-side answer down the line.
After doing the research for this piece, it's clear that the Bears may not be able to find an answer at left tackle through either the draft or free agency. This means the team may need to look internally for a player that can consistently protect the blind side. That might mean sliding over Carimi or giving Williams a shot to play the position for which he was drafted. Whatever the solution, don't count on Chicago miraculously finding an All-Pro left tackle this offseason.
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of Bear Report magazine and BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.