It's rare when an NFL team starts the regular season with an offensive play caller who hasn't coached in the league for eight years. Yet that's exactly what the Chicago Bears will be doing this Sunday when Marc Trestman steps on the field for his first ever game as an NFL head coach.
Trestman will be calling the plays for an offense he has been installing the past seven months. We know his system will be influenced heavily by the West Coast offense developed by legendary 49ers coach Bill Walsh, with whom Trestman worked closely in 1996.
Based on what we saw in training camp, it will be an offense that revolves around the short passing game. Balls are supposed to come out quickly and on target, with plays designed to get the ball to playmakers in space. It's a far cry from the downfield attacks of the last three Bears coordinators. But beyond that, we really know nothing about what his offense will look like once the whistle blows this weekend.
This can be seen in one of two ways. First, we're not the only ones who don't know what to expect from the Bears offense this year. The rest of the league is in the same boat. To get an edge, you could go back and look at the Raiders offenses of the early 2000s, but whose to say Trestman will be using any of those same plays 11 years later? And you can't look at what he did in Montreal, as the CFL is an entirely different game.
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So opposing defensive coordinators are going to have to guess, at least to start the season, until they get some tape of the Bears to dissect for tendencies and weaknesses.
"We haven't shown a lot of our offense, so that's going to be good," Roberto Garza said today.
In fact, it appears even the players running his offense don't truly know what to expect from Trestman on game day.
"Right now we're just an offense trying to figure out what we're going to be," said Martellus Bennett. "I don't think we have our identity yet. I think we're going to figure out our identity during this journey. So we'll figure out if we're a run-first team, a pass-first team. We have no clue."
Bennett has a point, as offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer has a history of building effective run games using his zone-blocking scheme. Studying film of Kromer during his days with the Saints will do the Bengals some good but in a zone system, you're not really trying to hide anything. It's all about execution.
Yet the newness of the staff and uncertainty of what the Bears will look like on Sunday goes both ways. This is a coaching staff that has never before worked as a team on game day. There are surely going to be some speed bumps.
And since many coaches on Trestman's staff are relatively new to the NFL, designing game plans for defenses at the highest level, as well adjusting those plans during the game, is a new challenge. Opposing coaching staffs will plan accordingly.
"It could be an advantage or it could be a disadvantage because we're running new stuff and they're running a different defense than what we've been going against every day [in practice]," Bennett said. "So they don't really know what we're going to run. But we also don't know if it works against their defense either. So I think it kind of evens it out."
This is especially so for the offensive line, which features four new starters.
"There's an advantage both ways because defenses always hide a couple of packages, so you have to be ready for that," said Garza. "We use our rules and we go along with that."
Four days from now, we'll get our first look at the new Chicago Bears offense. The uncertainty creates excitement and, given Trestman's history of success as a play caller in the NFL, there's obviously a lot of potential. But this is an offense in transition. The rest of the league knows it as well and they'll be ready to take advantage, starting with the Bengals.
"No question, it's a good defense," Garza said. "Live bullets now. It's not the preseason. Everything counts and every play matters."
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his third season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.