Commentary

Jay Cutler buying Mike Martz's deal

QB seems to be enjoying learning offensive coordinator's brand of passing

Originally Published: August 6, 2010
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

Mike Martz and Jay CutlerAP Photo/Nam Y. HuhIn their first Chicago Bears training camp together, new offensive coordinator Mike Martz (left) and quarterback Jay Cutler appear to be on the same page.

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith has brought back a "Monsters of the Midway" theme to reinstall a swagger in his defense. Offensive coordinator Mike Martz is trying to turn the offense into "Hellboys on the Hashmarks."

Bears camp is one of the most interesting stops on this training camp tour. Everyone knows that Smith and anyone not tied to ownership is on the hot seat to win this season. Watching the Bears practice has convinced me they are better than some people think.

Martz's play calling and quarterback Jay Cutler's right arm is a dangerous combination. Smith talks about re-establishing the intimidating presence of the Bears' defense, but something is scary about what Martz is doing to this offense.

Understand, the Bears' offense is an interesting collaboration. It starts with former Vikings head coach Mike Tice establishing an attitude and a plan for an offensive line that has been lost since it grew too old three years ago. Tice preaches a smashmouth approach to his blockers.

What Tice and Martz didn't know until they got together in meetings was that their protection concepts and running-game plan were pretty close. Tice teaches some of the old principles he learned when he was playing for Joe Gibbs on the Washington Redskins.

Martz is a mad scientist with his unpredictable motion schemes. He believes in stretching a defense on almost every play. The former St. Louis Rams head coach is genuinely excited about what he considers diamonds in the rough at wide receiver and tight end.

It will be hard to re-run his "Greatest Show On Turf" days with the Rams, but the Bears can be a "Good Show On Grass."

Some observations from Bears camp:

1. Watching Cutler throw, I believe he's bought into Martz's offense. As much as he appeared to turn off last year's coaching staff and as much as he struggled all season, Cutler has settled into Martz's scheme easily. He's smart. He's got a great arm. He's accurate. That's all Martz asks of his quarterbacks, and those who played for him rave about how quarterback-friendly the offense can be.

As a Denver Broncos star playing in 2008 for then-head coach Mike Shanahan, Cutler threw for 4,526 yards and 25 touchdowns. As discombobulated as the 2009 Bears' offense was in his first year with Chicago, Cutler still threw for 27 touchdowns. Barring disaster this season, Cutler should throw for at least 30 touchdowns and 4,000 yards.

The surprise is how well the receivers are doing in this offense. All of the potential Devin Hester has is emerging in Martz's scheme. His route-running always has been good, and he catches the ball well. Martz raves about his skills and even brought in former Rams receiver Isaac Bruce to work with Hester.

The other surprise star is Johnny Knox -- the speediest Bears receiver streaks down the field. The sleeper of the group is Devin Aromashodu, a 6-foot-2, 201-pound slot receiver whom Cutler liked last season and Martz likes even more this year.

My concern with the Bears' receivers will be durability. Hester is 5-11, 192 pounds. Knox is 6-foot, 190 pounds. They could take a pounding but this is a fast group, perhaps one of the fastest Martz has had a chance to develop.

2. A different Julius Peppers has emerged in Chicago. Peppers might have been the best player on the Carolina Panthers, but he operated quietly. He let other players handle the media on a daily basis. As they did their interviews, Peppers slipped out the back door of the locker room. That led reporters to speculate Peppers wasn't a leader.

[+] EnlargeJulius Peppers
Dennis Wierzbicki/US PresswireJulius Peppers is having a great first training camp as a Bear.

In one offseason, Peppers is not only a leader for the Bears, but he's a freak. Peppers has bulked up to 300 pounds, about 10 pounds heavier than he was in his Panthers days. He earned so much credibility from his teammates, they named him captain. Brian Urlacher remains the main leader of the defense, but Peppers leads by what he does on the field.

During practices, he's like a man playing among boys. In each practice, Peppers seems to make a play that causes players to say they have never seen such athletic moves. He'll leap in the air, bat down a pass and then make an incredible spin move to make the interception. Peppers is playing so well the Bears expect him to draw double- and possibly triple-team blocks.

Teammates need to take advantage of the extra attention that will be given to Peppers. Coach Smith will also be able to work extra blitzes to further put pressure on quarterbacks. The Bears are no longer using a soft Cover 2 defense. In fact, the Bears blitzed more than usual last year because they lacked a consistent pass rush. It also helps that defensive tackle Tommie Harris is healthier than he's been in years.

3. Martz seems to be conquering some of the challenges for the offense, but the key to the season could be Tice's development of the offensive line. The line could also be the downfall of the team. General manager Jerry Angelo has been scrambling to find replacement parts the past two years and it hasn't been easy.

On the positive side, Chris Williams, the Bears' 2008 first-round pick, has settled into the left-tackle position and looks as though he fits. He's bigger and stronger and no longer looks out of place.

Guard Roberto Garza is solid and could play on the left or right side at a decent level. Tice thinks he can develop a good second guard in either Lance Louis or Johan Asiata. Once Olin Kreutz is healthy, he'll be the center. Right tackle is a big problem, however, as Frank Omiyale has struggled in camp, often being replaced by Kevin Shaffer when he's at his worst.

Cutler has a habit of holding onto the ball an extra second or two to use his strong arm to make a play. If the line struggles, he might have to try quicker throws. Tice has his hands full but he is optimistic he can pull this off.

John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer