BOURBONNAIS, Ill. – The 2013 Bears training camp is different for myriad reasons of procedure, timing and other particulars. It is also markedly different from the past couple because for once, J’Marcus Webb is not the hot issue for concern and debate.
This year, that is at right guard.
[RELATED: Four things for Bears fans to watch]
More than any group, the offensive line is the front and center when the Bears hold their first practice in pads on Sunday, for two reasons. One is the overall integration and coordination in a group that already has different starters at four positions (all but center) from the front that started in the season wrap-up at Detroit.
Three of the five positions already have been upgraded: left tackle with Jermon Bushrod, left guard with Matt Slauson and right tackle with Webb. Their working together in live action is now the issue.
The second reason is specifically whether the Bears have their answer at right guard, which was only slightly less chaotic (three different starters) than left guard (four) over the second half of last season.
Competition already underway
To be resolved is the starter between James Brown, an undrafted free agent with three starts at left guard the last three games last season, and rookie Kyle Long, the 20th-overall pick of the 2013 draft with just five college starts at guard – and those were at left.
Brown also has worked at left guard both days of practice, including several snaps with the No. 1 offense on Saturday. He has put on more than 30 pounds in order to provide more mass inside.
“When I got here I started off at 305, but that was way too light for playing tackle. Right now I’m at 337,” Brown said. “I put on mostly lean mass.
“Of course, sometimes a big guy is going to eat some stuff that’s bad,” he added, laughing.
Eben Britton, a one-time starter with Jacksonville, is lurking on the depth chart and has more experience than Brown and Long combined.
In Long’s favor, the speed with which the offense is operating is not even the pace Long experienced at Oregon.
“The cool thing about this offense is there are a lot of zone-read principles,” Long said. “So, the zone-read offense is something that we did at Oregon. The big difference we have a quarterback under center and we huddle here. Those are the two biggest differences. It’s still football.”
Amid his highly visible bad games (at Green Bay, at San Francisco), Webb has the highest grade of any returning Bears lineman, per the evaluations of ProFootballFocus.com. He graded out below only center Roberto Garza among returnees as a pass blocker. Over the last three years his improvement has been exponential by year, from an emergency fill at right tackle as a rookie seventh-rounder in 2010 to left tackle with no offseason (lockout) in 2011 to last season.
Webb allowed 12 sacks in 2010 and 12 in 2011, down to seven in 2012. He returns to left tackle far more accomplished than he was in his first stint there. He did not allow a sack in eight of his last nine games, the exception being vs. the 49ers.
“We’ve had a good history of finding guys that were not first- and second-round draft picks that had a lot of success,” said offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer. “But when you’re talking about an offensive line, you’re really talking about ways to play to their strengths.”