This is the final part in my look at the Chicago Bears offensive unit, and I saved the most talked about position group for the end. Offensive tackle is the high profile o-line position, as it's the tackles that that are tasked with stopping the athletic edge rushers.
J'Marcus Webb - Signed through 2013 - I'll just get this out of the way right now; J'Marcus Webb no longer sucks. If you're still holding onto Webb as the poster child for Chicago garbage offensive linemen, then you are mistaken. Webb's first year as RT was crap, his first year at LT was terrible, but in his 3rd year he improved to become an average NFL tackle. Does he still need to get better? Oh hell yea, but we're talking about a 24 year old player (DOB: 8-8-88) about to enter his 4th year in the NFL.
Now by no means am I trying to celebrate his mediocrity, but if you're blindly proclaiming 'Webb sucks' then I have a right to question your football acumen. I watched Webb very carefully this year, and those brief flashes of good play that I saw in years one and two were more prevalent in year three. He was more consistent in his technique, and the laziness I saw in years past didn't show up as much in 2012.
What really hurt him his first two years was not knowing his responsibilities from play to play. He would sometimes block inside and let an edge rusher go around him. He would take the guy in front of him instead of fanning outside. He would be unaware of where or when his help was coming. I didn't see these mental mistakes as much in his 3rd season. He's still committing too many penalties, but even that aspect of his game has declined. He was flagged 14 times in 2011 and 8 in 2012.
In my Sackwatch series, I had Webb allowing five sacks on the season, Pro Football Focus had him allowing seven. PFF had ten tackles allowing more than Webb's seven sacks, and nine tackles equaling his seven allowed. To take it a step in the other direction, there were eight tackles that allowed just one less sack than Webb in 2012. Do all of those 27 of those tackles suck? In QB hits allowed Webb ranked 39th, and in QB hurries Webb was 19th. He was also the 17th most penalized tackle. Again not great rankings, but far from sucking.
When Pro Football Focus grades their players, they consider anything worse than a -1.0 to be a negative grade, anything better than a +1.0 to be a positive grade, and grades between those two ranges are average. Their color coded tables are full of greens (positive), reds (negatives), and whites (neutral). J'Marcus Webb graded out with a -0.7 in 47th place, just one place below Jake Long and his -0.4. But if you peruse the WCG comment threads you'll find quite a bit of Bears fans pining for Jake Long and a multimillion dollar contract.
I mentioned Webb ascending from a crap player to an average player, and the PFF grades show that. in 2010 he had a -35.0, in 2011 he "improved" to a -16.2, and we already covered his -0.7 in 2012. Those are some fairly substantial strides. He improved by 18.8 after one year, and by 15.4 after two. Is it that far out of the realm of possibilities that he won't improve again?
To break down Webb's grade even further, I'll look at their weekly overall, pass blocking, and run blocking grades, which is 48 grades total, (16 games x 3). Of those 48 marks, he had 13 positive, 11 negative, and 24 neutral. Again, these aren't the numbers of a sucky player.
So after all this number crunching would I be OK if Webb was the starting left tackle in 2013? Yes and no. I think the Bears need to add a tackle either via free agency or the draft, let them compete, and may the best man win the job.
Cabe Carimi - Signed Through 2014 - Now if you want to talk about a sucky season playing tackle for the Bears, look no further than Gabe Carimi. I was very shocked and disappointed at how he played in 2012, especially after his brief rookie year where he looked adequate enough. I'm not ready to lump Carimi with Chris Williams, Marc Colombo, and Stan Thomas as busted Bear draft picks, but he definitely regressed.
Watching him play last season I didn't see the same guy I saw briefly in '11 or at Wisconsin when he won the Outland Trophy as the best collegiate offensive lineman. I really don't think he was fully recovered from his knee dislocation or the follow up procedure. The knee itself may have been structurally 100%, but I don't think he was even able to round into football shape. He looked slower, he looked weaker, and he looked lost on numerous occasions. I think with another off season, he'll be able to get his body right and be able to play a solid right tackle in '13.
I mentioned his season was sucky, and of the 80 tackles PFF graded that took at least 25% of their teams snaps, Gabe was only in front of six of them with a -14.3 overall. However as a run blocker, his +9.1 was the 9th best among the tackles. The potential is there for Carimi, and I believe his potential is best served at tackle, even though he played fairly well at guard.
If you remember Carimi was pressed into action at right guard, even getting three starts at the position. Would you believe that he had the highest grade of any of the Chicago guards? In fact his +4.2 was the only positive grade the entire o-line received overall for the '12 season.
Jonathan Scott - Free Agent - To say that Scott was an improvement at RT over Carimi is accurate, but I think that's more a testament to Carimi being really bad, because PFF graded Scott at a -8.0, good for 63rd overall. I'd be surprised if Scott was brought back.
Cory Brandon - Signed through 2013 - Brandon had a cup of coffee on the active roster after three separate stints with the Bears in 2012. He'll be in camp, and he'll have a shot to stick as a swing tackle.
2013 OUTLOOK - Ryan Clady (+26.9 PFF grade), Branden Albert (+13.8), and Jake Long (-0.4) are just a few of the left tackle free agents that will be available. Andre Smith (+26.9), Gosder Cherilus (+23.4), and Sebastian Vollmer (+21.5) are just a few of the right tackles that are available. I would love to see the Bears snag one of the top left tackles available, but the money might be too much, and some of those guys could get franchised.
Many mock drafters are predicting that with the 20th pick in the draft the Chicago Bears will take Oklahoma's Lane Johnson.
Regardless if the Bears draft a tackle in the 1st, I think they do need to add an o-lineman or two in the draft at some point.
I think the West Coast Offense will help get the sack numbers down next season, but the offensive line play does need to improve.