Bears put trust in rookie Webb
Bears put trust in rookie Webb
As offensive coordinator of the Rams in 1999, Mike Martz presided over the historically rapid development of quarterback Kurt Warner from former grocery-store stock boy to Super Bowl MVP.
According to Martz, Bears rookie starting right tackle J'Marcus Webb progressed even quicker.
"I don't know in 38 years of coaching if I've seen a player make this radical improvement in such a short time as he has,'' Martz said Wednesday about Webb.
Martz has been known to exaggerate more than a speed-dater. But hyperbole aside, the Bears ability to trust Webb as a starter the final 12 games cannot be diminished as one of the key reasons for their offensive growth.
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The return of right guard Roberto Garza to the lineup in Week 9 stabilized pass-protection and the running game. But without Webb gradually getting better each game alongside Garza, Martz's tinkering would have continued.
Now with pass-rusher extraordinaire Clay Matthews and the Packers likely to target the offense's perceived weak link in Webb, nobody on the Bears line faces more pressure Sunday than the seventh-round pick out of Division II West Texas A&M.
"Last week the Seahawks targeted me so, of course, (the Packers) are going to target me too,'' Webb said at Halas Hall. "They think I don't know what I'm doing.''
At the risk of upsetting a menacing 6-foot-7, 328-pound man who punches as part of his livelihood, I had to ask.
So, do you know?
"Of course I do,'' Webb scoffed. "This late in the season, you have to know a little something. Definitely I was nervous early this year but they counted on me to learn quickly and react to anything that comes my way. I'm expected to do my job and I will.''
Seemed like a fair question given that the last big game Webb could remember preparing for before paled in comparison to the NFC championship. That came when West Texas A&M ruined No. 1 Abilene Christian's homecoming Oct. 17, 2009. The crowd was 13,000. There might be that many people hanging around the Bears team hotel Saturday night.
"In the Division II world, that was pretty good,'' Webb said with a smile. "The stakes are higher now. Their defense is pretty complicated. They move around a lot and put their best guys in the right places. I feel some anxiety but I'm prepared in every way.''
Anybody who has seen the YouTube video of Webb describing how he accidentally chipped offensive line coach Mike Tice's tooth knows better than to question the tackle's confidence. As Webb explained, during a pre-draft workout Tice held a blocking bag up to his chest as he imitated a defensive lineman charging Webb. Instinctively, with force, Webb extended his arms with enough power to knock the bag into Tice's mouth and force a trip to the dentist.
Recalling that incident on camera, Webb displayed an inner belief that has come in handy during his first NFL season.
"The moral of the story is don't (mess) with me,'' Webb said.
Outsiders rarely see that side of Webb. But those who know the suburban Dallas native describe a charismatic young man who appreciates the second chances he has received. Webb started as a true freshman at Texas — a rare feat — but academic issues forced him to take a circuitous path to the NFL through Navarro Junior College and West Texas A&M.
Life lessons learned along the way come up when Webb talks to youths throughout the Chicago area, as he did last Tuesday night at St. Sabina on the South Side as a guest of Rev. Michael Pfleger. He has welcomed advice from Tice, teammates and extended members of the Bears family. Off and on the field, evidence suggests Webb has embraced maturity.
"For a young man to come in like he has and deal with the pressure and to continue to get better and have the poise that he has demonstrated has been really remarkable,'' Martz said.
Not since Troy Auzenne started all 16 games at left tackle in 1992 has a Bears rookie started the same position for 12 or more games as Webb has.
There were 15 offensive tackles and 217 players selected before Webb. The first tackle chosen, Trent Williams of the Redskins, went fourth overall and signed a four-year, $60 million deal. Webb's signing bonus was $60,000.
Williams gave up 11 1/2 sacks and committed six penalties in 13 starts at left tackle, according to STATS. Webb gave up 10 1/2 sacks and committed six penalties in 12 starts on the right side for a team one victory away from the Super Bowl.
"Week 1, he was an afterthought,'' Tice said. "Because of the injuries and Chris Williams getting hurt, there was a hole there. That plan was expedited a little bit. All tackles have a play here and there where they look crappy, but he's learning. He's playing faster. He has all the things you look for in a good NFL tackle, and he has come a long way."
Eventually, Webb might fit best at left tackle because of his size and athleticism. Some envision Webb as a potential fixture at right tackle the way James "Big Cat'' Williams was in the 1990s.
Those are big shoes indeed.
But then Webb does wear a size 22.