LAKE FOREST — Chicago’s right tackle J’Marcus Webb has been tested a lot already this season. Like most rookies, sometimes he has failed, other times he has passed.

LAKE FOREST — Chicago’s right tackle J’Marcus Webb has been tested a lot already this season. Like most rookies, sometimes he has failed, other times he has passed.

But he may not have been tested the way he will be Sunday in the NFC Championship game.
According to head coach Lovie Smith, “our tackles will be going against a great player like Clay Matthews,” and the team’s success could hinge on their effort.

Matthews was fourth in the league with 13½ regular-season sacks, and he’s second in the postseason with three in the first two rounds. The Packers have nine sacks against the Bears in two games this year, but they had just three in the regular-season finale, and if the Bears play the way they have most of the way since the Week 7 bye, they hope to be in good hands.

“We know we’ve been doing some good things on the line,” veteran center Olin Kreutz said after the 35-24 win over Seattle on Sunday. “Now, we’ve got to keep doing it until we’re done.”

Both Kreutz and Webb know the Packers may single the rookie out, and go after him. But neither believes it will be much different from the way everybody goes after anybody else this time of year.

“I expect every team to play lights out. You’re fighting for a lot of things, one being that you don’t want to go home empty-handed,” Webb said. “The speed is of course faster now. Everybody’s fighting for everything they can get; fighting for those extra checks.”

Early on, Webb was just a bystander. An injury to Chris Williams in Week 3 had line coach Mike Tice scrambling for another lineup. Webb, who was inactive the first two weeks of the season and spent the next two on the bench, was inserted into the right tackle spot in Week 5, and he’s started there (and stayed there) every game since.

He’s had some bumps in the road — accounting for several of the Bears league-high 59 sacks allowed — but he has grown into one of Martz’s favorite projects.

“I don’t know if in 38 years of coaching that I’ve seen a player make this radical of improvement in the short time he has,” Martz said. “Obviously, it means Mike (Tice) has done a great job with him. For a young man to come in like he has and deal with the pressure of the playoffs, big games, all these games at the end of the year that are so meaningful for us, and to continue to get better and have the poise he has demonstrated, is really remarkable.”

The Bears line allowed six sacks in the last meeting with the Packers, including two that came from Webb’s gap. They cut that down to three sacks last week, and even though he’s a rookie, Webb learned quickly how to adjust in the playoffs.

“He’s come a long way. You look at the last six or seven games, he’s played solid football for us,” Tice said. “Every week there’s some new ghost that shows up and scares the (heck) out of him. That’s just the way it is for young players. … But, luckily he’s such a good student and he’s always getting better.”

He’s improved, but is he ready for this. The 6-foot-7, 328-pounder doesn’t know himself, but he knows he’s not about to break his focus.

“Why would we just lay down now?” Webb said. “We have goals we set, and currently we are on the right track. Just a little bit more to go.”

Bears reporter Jay Taft can be reached at 815-987-1384 or jtaft@rrstar.com.