About the Author
Recent posts by Dan Parr
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — Entering his first season as the Bears' full-time starter at left tackle, Chris Williams is learning a new, complex offense from coordinator Mike Martz. He and the rest of the offensive linemen are getting some pointed pointers from new offensive line coach Mike Tice. He's facing off against Pro Bowl DE Julius Peppers, a freakish athlete, in hot and humid training-camp practices. He's the much-hyped building block on the offensive line — which GM Jerry Angelo called the team's "biggest question mark" in June.
Williams' head doesn't appear to be spinning, though.
"No (Martz's scheme isn't difficult to learn)," he said, wiping sweat from his brow after a Wednesday-morning practice. "Offense is offense."
As for Tice, Williams likes his approach but may be learning more from Peppers than anyone else.
"As a player in the long run, I'll probably take more from Julius just because of the one-on-one and that kind of stuff," he said, when asked from whom he is learning the most. "From an offensive perspective, Tice and Martz bring so much to the game it's hard to pick one or the other."
Everything seems to be going well for Williams now, but the first two years of his career were less than ideal.
Orlando Pace pushed Williams away from his natural spot on the left side to right tackle one year ago. He injured his back in a non-contact drill during the second practice of camp two years ago. The 2008 first-round pick underwent surgery to repair a herniated disc a couple of weeks later and was sidelined for seven games.
This August is different. He's healthy. He isn't splitting reps with anyone on the first-team offense. The job is his.
"I'm just more comfortable," Williams said. "Last year around this time was like my first real training camp. I was just getting in and not really knowing what to expect and playing right tackle. Coming back this year, I'm more comfortable around the guys and everything."
His task is to keep QB Jay Cutler comfortable in an offensive system that calls for Cutler to make seven-step drops frequently. Williams will be fending off pass rushers alone more often this year since he won't get much help from backs chipping in on blocks in Martz's scheme. It's a recipe that hasn't been kind to quarterbacks in the past. Niners QB J.T. O'Sullivan was sacked 32 times in the first eight games of the 2008 season — Martz's one and only year in San Francisco.
Williams showed signs last season, including an impressive Week 16 performance when he kept Vikings DE Jared Allen from getting a sack, that he'll be ready to handle the key job. He may not have started his career the way the Bears had hoped, but they still think he can be an elite player for many years. Some have even suggested he is already the best left tackle in the NFC North.
He led Chicago in penalties last season, however, and struggled to slow down Packers OLB Clay Matthews in a Week 14 loss.
Williams still has something to prove. Yet, with competitions for starting jobs at left and right guard and right tackle, he, deservedly or not, is fairly low on the Bears' list of concerns when it comes to the front five.
"Williams is a very smart guy," Tice told PFW. "I think it matters to him. I think he wants to be good, (but) I'm not sure yet. We'll find out when it starts getting tough. We'll see how resilient he is and see how he bounces back from failure because, at left tackle, you're going to have failures. It's like playing corner.
"I'm learning about him. I haven't learned everything I need to learn about him."
Tice said the one thing he's trying to convey to the offensive linemen heading into the season is the importance of attention to detail. There are little things on each play that can be the difference between getting beat or making a successful block, and they can't be overlooked. Williams, Tice said, seems to understand that concept.
"He's very conscientious," Tice said. "He wants to get better and he wants to be good. When I talk about keeping his left hand higher, he'll work diligently at doing that. If I say, '(Take) a little shorter right step,' he'll work diligently at a little bit shorter of a right step. ... He works his butt off trying to do that. For him to be a great player, he needs to do those things consistently, and he's working hard at it."
For authoritative coverage and analysis of NFL news, free agency and fantasy football, visit ProFootballWeekly.com.