Taking offense to the optimism
The Bears' new offense has too many question marks to assuage fan concerns
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- They don't seem to understand why we'd be skeptical.
New Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz uses expressions like "Oh, heavens yes," when asked if the Bears have sufficient weapons; describes Jay Cutler as having "Kurt Warner awareness"; says Devin Hester is "mistake-free." And we want to believe him.
We really do.
Five days into training camp and one day after hurling a football onto the roof of a hospitality tent, the Bears quarterback says it is "not fair at all" to say he has been frustrated learning Martz's Byzantine system; that Greg Olsen is doing a "great job" blocking; that the receivers have been terrific as well.
And in their first public comments this camp, Martz and Cutler said Wednesday that the offense is on pace, on point, and described their relationship as nothing short of sunshine and rainbows.
Said Martz: "I thoroughly enjoy his company, just enjoy being around him outside the football part of it too. He's got a great sense of humor by the way. He's a little screwed up in his sense of humor like I am, so we kind of fit pretty good I think."
Said Cutler: "I think me and Mike have clicked very quickly in our relationship. We have the same goals and the same thought processes on and off the field."
It's not that we're doubting their sincerity. It's just that Bears fans have been sold on the abilities of one too many Rex Grossmans. We were there for Cutler's 26 interceptions last season. And we know that while Martz's offenses have improved significantly under his leadership, it also takes time to learn a new system and even longer to excel and the Bears don't have that luxury.
Martz said he "loves" his two tackles on the offensive line. Chris Williams, OK. But Frank Omiyale, who has moved uneasily from left guard to right tackle and continues his troubling penchant for jumping offsides, was the reason behind Cutler's tent-throwing moment Tuesday after allowing Julius Peppers to theoretically kill the quarterback, and was yanked by offensive line coach Mike Tice for the transgression.
It's only normal that the offensive line would lag behind the defense as it learns the new system, Martz said. But a group that allowed 35 sacks for the 23rd-ranked offense last year and will surely get Cutler maimed if it doesn't improve -- a task made harder with the quarterback's seven-step drop this season -- doesn't appear quite so lovable.
Bears receivers, meanwhile, as potentially special as they may be, have been told it can take up to three years to master Martz. New coaching intern Isaac Bruce told Hester it would take 2½ years.
"He's probably right," Martz said of Bruce, who starred for him on the Super Bowl-winning Rams. "[But] Devin is ahead of the curve. He has had a remarkable camp. There were times he struggled a bit in the spring trying to figure things out, but he's been mistake-free, outstanding in his route techniques. So he's better right now than I would expect him to be."Martz credited part of that to Hester's experience on defense and part to his experience, period. But the new stuff just keeps on coming. And coming. Bears offensive players are setting a record for takeout lunches, balancing their Styrofoam containers on their playbooks.
"Usually the fifth or sixth practice, things get a little goofy, guys will make some mental errors and there will be some information overload," Martz said. "But we're trying to isolate some different guys and see how they perform, who we can count on."
Multiply the goofiness for the quarterbacks, who serve only as a stark reminder of how really bad it would be for the Bears should Cutler go down this season.
Martz said Cutler has fixed his faulty footwork, which should help him stay healthy. And with a stronger arm than Warner, he has also been certified by Martz as a football prodigy.
"He has such a keen sense of where everybody's at," Martz said. "He sees everything and can diagnose it without even thinking about it, which allows him to excel with what we do. He has always tried to do it just the way we've asked him to do it. Then when things do break down, the really great ones have a sense of just finding a guy and he can do that.
"He's everything that I had hoped he would be, absolutely."
Cutler said Martz has been patient as a teacher. And he is apparently trying to be as well.
"It was hot out there," he said of Tuesday's minor flare-up, "and we're trying to make every play perfect. That's our goal offensively. Whenever we don't, I get frustrated, the older guys get frustrated, [Center] Olin [Kreutz] gets mad. It's a good thing, though. If we're just going out there and going through the motions, we're doing things wrong."
And apparently, the Bears are doing very little wrong thus far.
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.