10:07 PM CDT, April 20, 2012
Bears fans don't need to be reminded about the importance of keeping Jay Cutler healthy.
The team was 7-3 with him in 2011; and 1-5 without him.
As the starting left tackle last season, J'Marcus Webb says he has Cutler's back.
"We take pride in protecting Jay," Webb said Friday. "We're all working on footwork. We want to be an elite line instead of an average line. That is going to help us protect Jay and keep his feet right and then get the ball to our receivers — to our weapons."
Cutler's most celebrated offensive weapon this season will be wide receiver Brandon Marshall.
Former Super Bowl champion quarterback and current NFL Network analyst Joe Theismann says the Bears have put themselves in position to overtake the defending NFC North champions.
"You take a look at the way the Bears have competed against the Green Bay Packers the last two years ... every one of those games has been a tough, hard-fought football game. Now the Bears have an opportunity to be able to go and compete against the Green Bay Packers," Theismann said.
As a 7th-round draft pick out of West Texas A&M in 2010, Webb's ascent in the NFL makes him both an easy target for derision, as well as a possible feel-good story.
"There definitely has been no pressure," Webb, 23, said with a hearty laugh. "But I definitely appreciate their trust and nothing is given. I just want to make sure I continue to be consistent and work on everything I can this off-season to better help them keep me in that spot."
Cutler was sacked 23 times last season. Backup quarterback Josh McCown hit the canvass seven times in the season-finale at Minnesota, including 31/2 sacks by Jared Allen. Still, the Bears won 17-13. Webb often is the main target of criticism among the offensive linemen.
"I definitely don't go home and cry about it," Webb said. "I can take constructive criticism. And I don't always have to respond to (negative criticism). I just try to keep my level head and believe in those who believe in me. I believe in myself and I will do my job when they call upon me."
Mike Tice, who has been a firm supporter of Webb, is now the Bears offensive coordinator. He will continue to work with the offensive linemen and try to devise more ways to help protect Cutler.
"Having (Roberto) Garza and Chris Williams and Chris Spencer there — the veteran guys … we're going to be rocking and rolling really quickly," Webb said. "Coach (Lovie) Smith wants to get the ball in the athletes' hands, and us offensive linemen working together for the third year in a row, we should keep those pressures off.
"Right now I am trying to hone myself into a better athlete. I am down to about 330 (pounds) right now. I am still a big boy," Webb said.
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