Cutler confident in Martz's offense
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The huddle breaks. They scramble quickly to crouch into stances.
Three players shift, then a tight end suddenly splits out wide, forcing the defense to yell out adjustments while switching assignments. Seemingly a split second later, Jay Cutler fires a strike through the teeth of the secondary in a scene that repeats itself throughout Day 1 of Chicago Bears minicamp on Friday.
Welcome to the organized confusion that is Mike Martz's offense.
"It's a high-paced, high-octane offense," Cutler said after the club's morning workout. "Guys are flying around. Quarterbacks have to make quick decisions, and you have to be really accurate with the ball. It puts a lot on the quarterback, puts a lot on the receivers."
It should put a lot of digits on the scoreboard next season, too, provided the Bears absorb it at a fast enough pace.
At least that's the general feeling radiating from Halas Hall in the aftermath of a workout that showed promise of what the Bears could become on offense. Bears head coach Lovie Smith suppressed any inclination for over-excitement in his remarks Friday immediately after practice, calling the offense's progress "a start -- no more than that."
But for a unit which ranked in the bottom half of the NFL in 11 of 15 offensive categories last season, Smith knows the Bears need more than a mere start to remedy last season's 7-9 finish, which in turn, might quiet widespread criticism of the franchise that has resulted in mini verbal wars between current and former players.
"We've made so much progress in these couple of months, but [we're] looking to this next phase," Smith said. "You can't get too high, too low. I've seen progress from the first day and we'll see that each day. The guys are picking it up. They're excited about what we'll be as an offensive team. We need to score and score often. You're gonna hear us talking a lot about that. Today we got a little bit better."
The key, though, is for the Bears to progress enough in the coming weeks to ensure near flawless execution of Martz's offense by the end of training camp. Cutler said that's the offense's goal. But the "hard part," the quarterback said, would be "retaining the information throughout the year."
Cutler thinks the Bears got off to a promising start Friday during the morning session. Somewhat atypical of players learning a totally new scheme -- especially one as complex as Martz's offense -- none of the Bears made mistakes in alignment.
"Everyone was really eager to get out here and see what it looked like," Cutler said. "As a whole, I think it was better than expected. Guys are still thinking a lot. You're thinking about the play, you're thinking about the protection. Nothing's really coming quickly to anybody. The more we're in it, the more we're getting used to it [to where we'll] just be able to line up and play."
Earl Bennett, who finished with 717 yards last season and tied Devin Hester for the club's best yards-per-catch average (13.3 yards), watched from the sidelines Friday after undergoing a minor offseason knee procedure. But he made sure to absorb as many of the nuances of Martz's system as possible.
Receivers coach Darryl Drake underscored the importance of precision in route running during individual drills, telling the players, "[If] you all keep drifting [off the routes], that safety's gonna come put you in the hospital. Keep drifting ... I'm going to knock you out."
"The offense is great," Bennett said. "It's a lot of new stuff to learn, but you have to take into consideration that Mike Martz is going to push you to get better. You just have to be willing and flexible."
Martz himself has exhibited such traits, according to Cutler, who described the new offense as extremely "quarterback friendly." Cutler has spent hours watching Rams tapes of quarterbacks Kurt Warner and Marc Bulger during their days with Martz, and plans to contact Warner some time after the summer.
Cutler said Warner reached out to him and the two have exchanged text messages.
"Everything [Martz] does is to put a quarterback in a good position to be successful," Cutler said. "He's not gonna install stuff that is very stressful to the quarterback, or something that they can't get done. Everything that we've done, he's made sure I'm comfortable with it. If not, we adjust or find some medium ground to make it work. Everything that everyone has said about the system: 'It's gonna be successful, [I] love it.' I can see why. It puts you in a position to be very good."
Smith anticipated Cutler and Martz clicking almost immediately, but wants to see the productive relationship between the quarterback and coordinator grow as the regular season approaches. According to Smith, players looking to improve generally seek coaches capable of drawing such traits out of them.
For Cutler, that person appears to be Martz.
"What I hope to see [in the future] is exactly how it's been from Day 1," Smith said. "They have mutual respect for each other. I, of course, being in the middle, knew both guys [and] knew it would be a good fit. Mike can help Jay's game. Mike can help our offense [and] guys see that. So Jay has taken over the offense. [He's] learning each day with it and growing."
Michael C. Wright covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000.