Commentary

Excitement not only thing Smith full of

As usual, Bears coach brims with optimism as camp opens. But is it warranted?

Updated: July 30, 2010, 1:12 AM ET
By Melissa Isaacson | ESPNChicago.com

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Tony Robbins doesn't have a thing on Lovie Smith.

Only the Bears coach can come off a 7-9 season in which his team failed to make the playoffs for the third year in a row and his quarterback threw a league-high 26 interceptions yet continue his pursuit of positivity with his own job security teetering.

Maybe if just once, after six seasons here, Smith would look into a sea of cameras and speak into a swarm of microphones and actually make you believe he listened to the questions and understood why they were asked rather than answering as if we're all fools. A little bologna on the side would be easier to swallow.

But instead, there was Smith doing his thing again Thursday afternoon, under the same gazebo where Dick Jauron once stood in the summer of 2003, prior to what would be his last season as Bears head coach, and told us, "We're a good football team when we're healthy. How good, I don't know."

At least he was honest.

[+] EnlargeLovie Smith
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhHead coach Lovie Smith showed up to Bears training camp as optimistic as ever.

Smith, on the other hand, began the 2010 campaign by saying the team with a new offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator and offensive line coach will enjoy momentum gained by victories over division winner Minnesota and 2-14 Detroit to finish last season.

And Smith is "excited about" (in no particular order):

"This team ... Jay [Cutler]'s second year here ... Mike Tice (who's excited about the offensive line, perhaps the worst pass-blocking unit in the league last season) . . . the new year ... Danieal Manning's potential ... Major Wright (Manning's potential replacement) ... and being able to blitz more."

And, oh yeah, things will take care of themselves because they always do.

We are supposed to believe that the offense will mesh using probably the most complex system in the league, that the line will block and that the defense will finally pressure the quarterback because, as said Smith, "We want to play our best football and I have been in this game a little bit, and I think I know what a good football team looks like. This is a good football team. Every week, everything will take care of itself."

The defense will become aggressive and force turnovers despite the continued uncertainty regarding Tommie Harris and the total lack of continuity in a secondary in which the Bears have started 40 different safety tandems during Smith's tenure because, as he said, "We're Chicago Bears. We have to play good defense. We're going to talk a lot about the Monsters of the Midway, getting guys to that brand of football, being a tough physical group."

Smith's players continue to stand behind him, and there is no reason to think that will change.

"Absolutely," said Cutler when asked if the team felt a certain degree of responsibility to win for its head coach.

"Lovie's one of the best coaches I've been around and I know that everyone on this team has a great amount of respect for him as he does for us," he continued. "He treats us well and I know that certainly guys who have been here longer than me definitely have a lot of ties with him and want to go out there for him and play well because you never know what's going to happen this year if we don't go out and perform, if Lovie gets to stay or not. So that's definitely a question that I'm sure is in the back of everyone else's mind."

Israel Idonije, who will be slugging it out in camp with Mark Anderson for the starting left end job, called Smith "incredible."

"It's tough," Idonije said. "When things don't go well, the finger is pointed at somebody, and these last few years we haven't played our best football. That's no secret. It's about everybody playing better and winning and just showing what kind of coach he is. He's an incredible coach and he's been a great leader for us. We've got to start winning to really show people what kind of leader he has been."

No one has ever questioned Smith's relationship with his team or their loyalty to him. And that's certainly a positive moving forward to a season in which both Smith and general manager Jerry Angelo have been put on notice by team president Ted Phillips.

But it begins with Cutler, and maybe ends with him depending on what happens. And Cutler had no problem admitting that mastering Mike Martz's offense is going to be a challenge.

"Once you really get into it and really learn the little details to it, I think a lot of it starts to make sense," Cutler said. "But at first, whenever you take a look at that book, you're overwhelmed absolutely because there's just so much information to retain."

Cutler went on to say that Martz explains the offense well and that, with repeated reps, hopefully he can cut down on the interceptions from last season. And Smith?

"You talk about INTs, I talk about the touchdowns," he said. "Everything around here is positive."

Yes, that much we really are positive about.

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.