Webb's play more in line with Tice's expectations
Offensive lineman answers bell against Redskins
On the NFL
11:30 PM CDT, August 18, 2012
Go ahead, buy your Brandon Marshall jersey.
Rave about Michael Bush.
Marvel at Alshon Jeffery.
But none of what those players did Saturday night would have been possible if not for the Bears offensive line.
And none of what those new toys do all season long is going to matter if Bears blockers are whiffing on pass rushers and Jay Cutler is taking a beating like a crash dummy.
It's not as if the Bears linemen were killing it Saturday. But no one is expecting dominance. The line was good enough, and that means something.
Asked what he was most impressed with Saturday, Cutler said, "We protected well. That's where it all starts. That was a main focus from last week to this week."
Cutler also talked about developing an attitude up front. No line can develop an attitude without confidence. And no line can have confidence without success.
There still were three sacks and two false starts in the first half.
However, the linemen did not appear to be responsible for any of the sacks.
The Bears can live with that.
Their offensive line is vulnerable. Of course, there probably are 31 other offensive lines in the league that are as vulnerable or slightly less vulnerable.
That's the state of offensive line play in the NFL.
But for the Bears to get where they want to be, they need a reliable line.
As of now, it is the one area that is unsettled, specifically at left tackle and left guard.
In the first half against the Redskins, J'Marcus Webb and Chris Spencer played four series at the positions, while Chris Williams and Chilo Rachal played three series. After halftime, Webb and Williams each played another series at left tackle while Rachal played all but the final series.
Most of the scrutiny has been on Webb, who neither blocked nor wrote poetry very impressively in the previous week. On Monday, offensive coordinator Mike Tice clearly was trying to send a message to Webb.
Tice made it clear the starting job was up for grabs, and referred to Webb as "the other guy" in the competition.
So Saturday was a big night for Webb and his linemates.
Webb answered the bell. He played with solid technique and showed urgency.
Spencer had some inconsistencies for the second game in a row. On third-and-11, he committed a false start. On the next play, he was late in picking up a delayed blitz from linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, and Jay Cutler threw an incompletion.
Rachal, a free agent picked up from the 49ers, had another false start later in the second quarter.
Webb still has the inside track to be the starting left tackle, but Williams has a chance. There also is a chance, though it's a remote one, that another player could enter the competition.
The Bears quietly have tried out a number of offensive tackles during training camp, but none of them has been the right combination of talent and affordability.
Jeff Otah and Chad Clifton probably aren't healthy enough. Marcus McNeill retired. Kareem McKenzie is out there, but is he really better than what the Bears have?
The Bears' real hope is that the offensive line can keep improving by scheme, rather than by additions.
"You have to protect your offensive line," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "To me, very few tackles can handle a good defensive end one on one. So you have to protect them, there is no way around it. Especially on the road, in a dome, you have to give your linemen help. Giving them help can be running the football too. We have a plan."
What few people remember is the Bears had a plan last year too. Despite Mike Martz's reputation, he gave the offensive line help in many circumstances.
Despite that, the line was not good enough last year.
Saturday night, it was.