The talk around Halas Hall this week, at least among the media, has been centered on whether or not coordinator Mike Martz deserves another chance with the Chicago Bears in 2012. There is skepticism as far as Martz' ability to right a sinking offense and turn around a dramatic downward slide that began after Jay Cutler broke his thumb in late November.
Successful NFL teams have reliable backups, at every position, and at the quarterback slot in particular. What Bears fans have suffered through since Cutler left is the spectacle of Caleb Hanie behind center, a backup whose lack of skill and overall game savvy puts the entire offensive system into question. And while Kahlil Bell and Josh McCown have been pleasant surprises offensively, the loss of so many starters has been too much to overcome.
The argument can be made that Martz has suffered more than his share of disaster this year. Who would have imagined going into the season that not only Cutler but Johnny Knox, Matt Forte, Gabe Carimi and Chris Williams would be sidelined? On top of that, Devin Hester has been playing extremely tentatively to accommodate various physical maladies, including a badly tweaked ankle.
OC Mike Martz
But isn't that the point? In the NFL if your starter is unable to perform, there has to be somebody on the roster who has been coached sufficiently to fill the gap. That's the reason depth charts exist.
No matter what the media and fans might think advisable in terms of coaching changes, the players have a completely different view of things. They are involved with the coaches on a daily basis and have strong feelings on the subject.
"I don't pretend to speak for everybody on this team, but I do think I have a feeling for what the guys are thinking. For myself at least, I would be very happy if coach Martz did not leave after this season," said Earl Bennett. "I know that a lot of you guys have been putting this out that you think he should go, but from our point of view, it isn't a good idea."
Does Bennett see something in Martz that the rest of us don't?
"It's not necessarily that I see something different. You can't deny the fact that we've had a five-game skid. But what I am telling you is the importance of familiarity with a system. We have been with coach Martz for a while now and we are comfortable in the way he does things. We feel that he has our backs and we want to perform successfully for him."
Bennett's main concern, should Martz leave, is in starting all over with an unfamiliar offensive playbook.
"We've worked very hard to do well with what we have in place. You bring in a new coach, a new approach, and everything will change. A system that we understand and can use successfully will be replaced by the unknown. I don't know how you can claim that would definitely be a good thing for this team. So I'd definitely say we are definitely in favor of coach Martz remaining with the Bears."
Going into what outsiders are characterizing as a meaningless game this weekend against the Vikings, Bennett preferred to dwell on the positives.
"It's not meaningless to us. In fact, it's been an excellent week of practice" he said. "The guys are right on, working hard. We have something to prove in terms of our future with the team. In a way, it's a clean slate, a new year and all of us want the trend to be up again."
By offseason training activities this spring, Cutler and Forte should be back on the field. Although whose offense they will be running remains to be seen.
"I don't like change," Bennett said. "I don't want change. We love coach Martz despite the rough patches the team had. So if things stay as they are, with the addition of our injured players back on the roster, I'll view that as a good start to the new year. But it's a business. We understand that. You've got to be a pro. Whatever happens during the offseason happens, and we'll adjust accordingly."
Beth Gorr has been covering the Bears for the last 12 years and is the author of Bear Memories: The Chicago-Green Bay Rivalry. She is currently working on a second book about early Bears history.