Spotlight shines on Bears offense
Mike Martz, you're on the spot. You, too, Jay Cutler. And the same goes for the rest of the offense.
The Chicago Bears insisted their struggles during a winless preseason were no cause for alarm, that they were simply holding back. Well, now it counts. The season opener is Sunday against Detroit, and it's time to see what they have.
''It's much easier to wire in on an opponent,'' Martz said. ''It's a lot easier for the players. It's a lot easier to coach that way, too.''
Cutler said he's confident in Martz's newly installed system, that there's ''some really good stuff on film that we're building on.''
''The guys had a great summer,'' Cutler said. ''With Mike calling the plays and making sure every detail is taken care of, we're going to be good.''
How soon until the offense starts clicking?
''First quarter,'' Cutler said.
The offense didn't exactly click in the preseason, when he got sacked 10 times behind a shaky line and led the Bears to just three scoring drives in 16 possessions before sitting out the final exhibition game. The Bears insist better days are ahead.
That hinges largely on how they adapt to Martz. Particularly Cutler, who continues to heap praise on his new offensive coordinator.
''It's similar to what I had in Denver - a high energy guy, he's very confident in his calls,'' Cutler said. ''He's very confident in what he's going to see defensively. He's able to change rapidly. He doesn't really get stuck on stuff. He can see ahead a couple of plays what's going to happen. It makes it fun.''
The Bears hired Martz hoping he could get Cutler to cut down on the interceptions after throwing a league-leading 26 last season - his first in Chicago - and provide the sort of early lift he helped give St. Louis and Detroit.
In his first year as offensive coordinator under Dick Vermeil, the 1999 Rams won the Super Bowl and produced the first of a record three straight 500-point seasons as part of ''The Greatest Show on Turf.'' Kurt Warner threw for 4,353 yards and 41 touchdowns while starring alongside Marshall Faulk, Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt.
Martz replaced Vermeil as head coach in 2000 and went on to produce a 56-36 record in five and a half seasons, leading the 2001 team back to the Super Bowl.
As offensive coordinator in Detroit, he coaxed the first 4,000-yard season out of Jon Kitna, and he held the same job in San Francisco in 2008. The exits in all three cases were ugly, whether it was after a reported clash with management (in St. Louis) or because of his pass-oriented ways (with the Lions and 49ers), but if the on-the-field pattern repeats itself in Chicago, the Bears could at least be in better shape this season.
If nothing else, Bears coach Lovie Smith should know exactly what he is getting, since he worked for Martz in St. Louis. So if he's rolling the dice, he understands the risk that comes with the potential reward.
Besides the knock - fair or not - that the running game gets ignored, high sack totals are also part of the equation. Cutler was quick to point out that's where new line coach Mike Tice comes in, but Tice can't protect him during the game. He's relying on left tackle Chris Williams, who struggled during the preseason, not to mention players like Frank Omiyale, Lance Louis and Roberto Garza along with veteran center Olin Kreutz, the line's longtime anchor.
''It's Week 1, we're good to go,'' Omiyale said.
Cutler's also relying on precise routes and timing with an unproven group of receivers.
''I love the offense,'' Cutler said. ''I love working with Mike. We just have a limited amount of time to put in his offense and try to make it work. So that's been the struggle with the guys, trying to run an offense that we're still trying to learn.''
Cutler said the Bears actually ran most of their plays during the preseason, although they had repeatedly said they were holding back, but they just weren't adjusting to the defenses. That will be one of the biggest differences come Sunday.
Martz doesn't script, say, the first 15 plays. He has an idea of what he wants to run early on, but he'll adjust depending on ball position and the defense.
''You might have to change the third play,'' Martz said. ''If it goes as planned, then great. But you have to be flexible. We try to, in my mind, have an idea of what we want to get to - maybe not in a real order, but we're going to get to these plays. But sometimes situations change that.''