When asked recently during rookie minicamps why the Chicago Bears did not add any offensive linemen in the 2012 draft, offensive coordinator Mike Tice smiled.
"I think if [GM] Phil [Emery] and [head coach] Lovie [Smith], with the help of the scouts and the staff, if we felt tackle were a dire need for us, I'm sure they would have answered the bell on draft day," Tice said.
Tice said the transition from Mike Martz's old scheme to the playbook currently being installed should provide better protection for Jay Cutler this season. The return of a healthy Gabe Carimi and Chris Williams will also be a boon.
"With the change in scheme, and the change in personality – if you will – and an offseason, and getting some guys healthy, I think we'll make a big jump in the offensive line," said Tice.
T J'Marcus Webb
Andrew Weber/US Presswire
Both Tice and Smith have professed confidence in the offensive linemen on the current roster, which includes left tackle J'Marcus Webb, who was downright awful at times last season.
"I think it takes time for young guys to play good in all areas, and I think we have a couple of young guys who have played good football in half the scheme, if you will, and they need to step it up in the other half of the scheme."
Tice is obviously referring to Webb, who improved last year as a run blocker yet, according to Pro Football Focus, gave up the second-most sacks of any tackle in the league (12) in 2011. He never developed as a pass blocker and was at his worst in the season finale against the Vikings, allowing 3.5 sacks to Minnesota defensive end Jared Allen.
Yet the club did not sign a veteran or draft a player to replace Webb. Which has led to widespread speculation as to what the team will do at left tackle.
According to a report by Michael Wright of ESPNChicago.com, a source within the organization said Chris Williams will get a shot to start at left tackle in 2012.
Williams has spent the last two seasons at left guard, yet was drafted as a left tackle in 2008. Injuries and personnel shifts forced Williams inside but it appears he'll finally get a second shot at being the club's blindside protector.
It's likely Tice will allow both Webb and Williams to compete for the starting spot, with the loser relegated to swing-tackle duties.
This won't be the only positional battle this offseason. Training camp this year will feature a competition at almost every spot along the front five. Here are the battles that will likely take place, as well as our prediction on how it will all shake out.
Chris Williams vs. J'Marcus Webb
Webb's biggest problems are footwork and balance. He often stops moving his feet and leans too far forward in trying to block edge rushers. This, more often than not, leads to Cutler eating dirt.
On the flipside, Williams has improved in each of his four seasons in the NFL and showed good balance and strength last year. As such, given his experience in college at the position, it seems likely Williams will win out. Webb started at right tackle as a rookie, so he's well suited to be the primary backup on both sides.
Starter: Chris Williams
G Edwin Williams
Bob Donnan/US Presswire
Edwin Williams replaced Chris Williams last year after the latter was lost in Week 10 with a wrist injury. Edwin struggled early as a run blocker but improved as the season progressed, and he's easily the best interior pass blocker on the team.
Wrotto was signed in Week 17 last year. The journeyman has just 12 starts in six seasons in the NFL. Henry spent most of last year on the practice squad and will need a strong camp if he's to earn a roster spot. Neither player figures to be much of a factor next year, meaning it's Williams' position to lose.
Starter: Edwin Williams
Garza slid inside last year after spending his entire previous career at guard. He made a decent transition and was named a Pro Bowl alternate. Yet he wasn't outstanding. His leadership and experience inside are very valuable but he struggles against bigger nose tackles.
Spencer is a career center that was moved to right guard last year. He's extremely sound technically and understands how to use leverage and angles to his advantage. He's arguably Chicago's best offensive lineman in open space.
While I believe Spencer is better suited at center, my guess is the club will go forward with Garza, a team leader, at the pivot.
Starter: Roberto Garza
Louis began the 2011 season as the starter at right guard but was eventually moved to right tackle after Carimi's injury. Louis is a quick interior player that can get down the line on pulls and traps. Yet he's easily overpowered by strong defensive linemen.
Rachal was a three-year starter in San Francisco before being replaced three games into the campaign last year. He has experience exclusively at right guard. He's the biggest of all the right guard candidates (6-5, 323). If he can play with power inside, he'll win out this competition.
If the club hands the starting center spot to Garza, then Spencer will come into play at right guard. Henry and Wrotto will also be in the mix.
Starter: Chilo Rachal
T Gabe Carimi
Dennis Wierzbicki/US Presswire
Gabe Carimi vs. his right knee
As long as Carimi is healthy, he'll be the starting right tackle. If he goes down with injury again, expect either Webb or Chris Williams to take over on the right edge. Bears fans do not want Louis to slide back outside, where he struggled mightily last year.
Starter: Gabe Carimi
Brown was signed as an undrafted free agent immediately after the draft. He played tackle in college but will slide inside in the pros. He is considered the best offensive linemen not drafted. If he has a strong camp, he'll throw a wrench into all Chicago's best-laid plans.
LT C. Williams
LG E. Williams
There is depth and versatility along the entire offensive line, which should make for an exciting 2012 training camp.
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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.