The winner of the battle for the left tackle spot between incumbent J'Marcus Webb and Chris Williams will not be determined on who does a better job as a run blocker.
For the Chicago Bears, as with all other NFL teams, the starting left tackle is the guy who does the best job protecting his quarterback's blind side. The NFL has never been more pass-heavy than it is now, and that means keeping quarterback Jay Cutler upright and healthy.
"I know they can both run block," offensive coordinator Mike Tice said of the two left tackle contestants. "But we're going to go out there and run the ball 50 times a game, so you've got to be able to protect.
"If you can't protect, you can't play for us."
The competition between the 6-7, 333-pound, 23-year-old Webb and the 6-6, 320-pound, 26-year-old Williams may not be decided until deep into the preseason.
"We're going to keep the heat on both of them," Tice said, "and we want to see when we get in pads who's going to block our good pass rushers. And whoever does that ..."
Both players realize the importance of their competition but neither is the excitable type that appears to be overmatched by the pressure.
"You put too much pressure on yourself, you start to over-think and make mistakes," said Webb, a seventh-round pick in 2010 out of West Texas A&M, who started all 16 games at left tackle last season and 12 at right tackle as a rookie.
Webb said he's ready to rumble.
"I tried to lean-up a little bit, get in the sun, get some running in, stop eating so many doughnuts," he said. "Now I'm just ready to get this training camp going. I've been waiting to hit some people. I've got two weeks of hitting Julius Peppers. Then we've got Denver (the preseason opener) in about two weeks. That will be fun."
Williams was drafted in the first round (14th overall) out of Vanderbilt in 2008, and the hope was that he'd be the Bears' starting left tackle for the next decade. But a back injury on the first day of his first training camp limited his rookie season to very limited snaps in the final nine games. Since then he's had an up-and-down, back-and-forth career, shuttling between three positions.
He started all 16 games in '09, 11 at right tackle and five at left tackle. After starting two games at left tackle the following season, he was moved inside to left guard. Last season, Williams started the first nine games at left guard before a dislocated wrist ended his season.
He's been around long enough to have heard all the knocks on and questions about the offensive line, which has allowed a league-worst 105 sacks over the past two seasons.
"I don't listen to people, so I don't really hear what they say," he said. "That's fine. We'll take the challenge. We'll come out and work hard every day, and I'll take care of myself, and those guys will take care of themselves."
The more important issue is how well they take care of Cutler.
--Running back Matt Forte wasn't thrilled when the Bears signed unrestricted free-agent running back Michael Bush to a four-year, $12 million deal in the offseason.
Forte was left waiting the wings, as the Bears' franchise player with a one-year tender offer of $7.742 million, but he eventually got a four-year $32 million contract. Now it's just one big, happy family with Forte and Bush co-existing in the backfield.
"Every year I've been here, there's another guy that was brought in to push me or to help me out, basically," Forte said. "That's what I look at it as. Competition brings success out of everybody. It's either going to make you better or you're going to try to work harder to try to get better. I accept Mike being here. He's a great guy and it's going to be a fun year."
--Maybe the most interesting matchup on the practice field is the Brandon Marshall-Charles Tillman battle.
For the Bears, it's a win-win situation with the two Pro Bowl players making each other better through competition.
"He's competing against one of the best corners in the NFL in Charles 'Peanut' Tillman, and Peanut is making him work," wide receivers coach Darryl Drake said after Marshall struggled in Thursday's first practice. "It's only going to make him better as time goes on. I'm very excited about what Peanut's doing to get Brandon ready.
"Brandon welcomes that challenge and understands and knows that it's only going to get him better. The thing that I don't want him to do is get frustrated because Peanut's going to win some of those battles. Now, I don't tell Brandon that, (I tell him), 'You have to win every battle,' and I expect him to win every battle. But, at the same time, I have a lot of respect for (No.) 33, too."
--After making the Pro Bowl for the first time last season, cornerback Charles Tillman is 31 years old and preparing for his 10th NFL season. But don't suggest to him that he's getting old.
"I don't feel like it's my 10th year," he said. "My body doesn't feel like it. My mind doesn't feel like it. I feel good: mind, spiritually, physically. It's mainly just more of what I hear about from ya'll."
--According to wide receivers coach Darryl Drake, Hester has made strides since last season when he slumped to 26 receptions and 369 yards, his lowest totals since 2007, his first year as an NFL wide receiver after transitioning from cornerback.
According to Drake, Hester is better "in every way possible," including route running and has benefited from not being characterized as the team's No. 1 wide receiver anymore.
"He's no longer worrying about being the guy," Drake said. "He's just playing."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "This is the most comfortable I think I've been going into camp with the offense, of what we're doing scheme-wise and the talent around me. You could say this is the most comfortable I've been." --Bears quarterback Jay Cutler.
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