Commentary

He'll put on a show

With Martz, entertainment is a given

Updated: February 2, 2010, 12:53 PM ET
By Melissa Isaacson | ESPNChicago.com

Mike Martz said Monday that he and Jay Cutler are a good intellectual match, that he's impressed with the Chicago Bears' receivers, is confident in the offensive line and can work in the tight ends; and that he loves defensive line coach Rod Marinelli, who technically fired him in Detroit.

But there is one area where the Bears' new offensive coordinator could not quite go, one stretch he could not make.

It always comes back to that bus and how the Bears get off it, doesn't it?

[+] EnlargeMike Martz
Kirby Lee/US PresswireWhen asked about Bears coach Lovie Smith's philosophy of "getting off the bus running," Mike Martz responded, "it depends on who you're playing."

Give Martz, an acclaimed offensive innovator known for his wide-open passing game, credit for not making a feel-good teleconference venture into the Twilight Zone.

"It depends who you're playing," Martz said when asked about Lovie Smith's get-off-the-bus-running philosophy. "More than anything else, you get off the bus and get in position to hit them in the mouth … pound it in there and then pull it up and hit [Johnny] Knox streaking into the end zone. You do whatever it takes to win."

Oh boy, is this going to be fun to watch.

Whether the team wins is another story, but with the hiring of Martz, entertainment is a given.

Let us consider the potential drama:

The actual offense

As the offensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams, Martz took a scout team quarterback in Kurt Warner to the Super Bowl the next season, where Warner was named the game's MVP.

Dick Vermeil, the Rams' coach in 1999 when Martz served as his offensive coordinator, told "The Waddle & Silvy Show" on ESPN 1000 early last month that "There probably is not a finer offensive coordinator in the National Football League than Mike Martz."

"He is bright, extremely bright," Vermeil said. "Secondly, he has a great natural feel for the game and a great feel for the players and what they can and what they can't do. I think he has an even greater feel when he analyzes a defense and what they do not do well and how to go about attacking them at their weakest points.

"He can exploit a defensive football team. The other thing is, he's a courageous play caller. He can scare you to death when you're on the other end of the headset."

[+] EnlargeKurt Warner
Al Bello/Getty ImagesMartz took former scout team quarterback Kurt Warner and turned him into a Super Bowl winner.

The only problem there is that the Rams had Warner, Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, Marshall Faulk and Orlando Pace in his prime, whereas the Bears do not have the players to scare anyone to death, except perhaps their fans.

And oh yes, "The Greatest Show on Turf" also will be played on a cow pasture.

In an ideal Martz world, he has five capable receivers with whom to spread the field and superb pass protection. He'll need two capable tackles, and the jury is still out on whether the Bears have even one.

Martz praised the speed of the Bears' receivers and made a point of saying that when he went to St. Louis, Bruce was considered too skinny and injury-prone and the Rams had two guys in Az-Zahir Hakim and Ricky Proehl whom they didn't know what to make of.

"And they ended up being three-quarters of 'The Greatest Show on Turf,'" Martz said.

Although skinniness is not a major problem for Bears receivers, catching on to the offense has been, and there was no dodging the problem of the tight end, a position that has never figured prominently in a Martz offense.

"Just like all positions, you take a look at what you have at tight end and who the guy is and what he can do and go from there," Martz said, praising the route-running fluidity of 2007 first-round pick Greg Olsen.

But no tight end in a Martz-led offense has caught more than 38 passes in a single season, which does not bode well for Olsen, fluid or not.

Cutler's survival

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
Christophe Elise/Icon SMIMartz met with Bears quarterback Jay Cutler over the weekend, and said he had a good meeting with him.

The biggest question is whether the Bears' quarterback can keep from getting crushed for lack of pass protection.

Next on the agenda is who will blow first. Will it be Cutler perturbed at his linemen for getting him crushed? Will it be an impatient Cutler launching on his receivers for not grasping the most complex offense they will ever see? Or will it be Martz exploding at Cutler for showing his displeasure, or for refusing to throw the ball away or perhaps throwing off-balance?

The possibilities are endless.

Although it probably serves little purpose making too big a deal of Martz's comments regarding Cutler's comportment after the quarterback threw four interceptions in the Bears' season-opening loss to the Green Bay Packers, it is worth some attention.

"He just doesn't get it," Martz said on the NFL Network telecast this past fall. "He doesn't understand that he represents a great head coach and the rest of those players on that team. Somebody needs to talk to him."

Martz said he brought that up "immediately" with Cutler in their time together in Nashville this past weekend and is confident the two won't have any problems.

"That was totally out of frustration from that game," Martz said. "He's going to be one of the elite players in this league for a long time. He knows now you have to take a deep breath before you go in there. I just didn't think he demonstrated who he really was. They're learning experiences for all of us."

Get used to those words because they might be used often in the future.

The staff dynamic

Again, everyone says all is good and we're not likely to be privy to any problems. But consider that there are now four former NFL head coaches on the same staff.

Smith's very survival will depend upon the guy whose offense will be exhausting his defense. And new offensive line coach Mike Tice, who favors the grind-it-out approach, might not appreciate his players being put in the position of looking bad.

Also consider that if Cutler shows progress but the Bears as a team do not, there are three candidates, led by Martz, who can take over as head coach. Think that might be brought up a few times on radio talk shows?

In the meantime, even those who sing the praises of Martz all mention his ego and controlling ways. One was Proehl.

"He has to coach underneath Lovie Smith and understand he's not a head coach, he's an offensive coordinator, and ultimately it's Lovie's football team," Proehl told Waddle & Silvy on Monday. "Mike helped build the success we had in St. Louis, there's no question . I felt if Mike continued to do the things that made him a great football coach, we possibly would have won that [Super Bowl] year in '01.

"I think his ego got in the way. He started out small when he had Kurt, as far as keeping it simple … I think we got too cute, too fancy, and over time it ended up being our demise. He got rid of guys I don't think needed to leave that were the backbone of that football team. Eventually he got rid of Kurt."

No danger of that for the Bears.

A year from now, the quarterback may well be the last guy standing.

Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com

Melissa Isaacson

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for espnW.com, ESPN Chicago and ESPN.com. The award-winning writer has covered Chicago sports for most of her 31-year career, including at the Chicago Tribune before joining ESPN in 2009. Isaacson has also covered tennis since 1986.

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