It's easy to see why quarterback Jay Cutler believes the Bears' new offense is on track for a successful 2010 season.
For openers, coordinator Mike Martz has a well-deserved reputation for creating potent passing attacks. Cutler's receivers are swift and talented, though inexperienced, and six-time Pro Bowl center Olin Kreutz was back on the practice field this week for the first time since offseason Achilles tendon surgery.
"We've got a lot of plays in, guys have responded really well to Mike and the offense and to the new situation that we're in," Cutler said. "You have to be happy where we're at. It's something to build on."
Kreutz wasn't expected back until the start of training camp, but there he was Thursday afternoon at the final OTA, snapping to Cutler and working with the rest of the starting offensive line. He's not yet full speed, but everyone expects he will be long before the games begin.
"I think he gets a little bored," Cutler said with a laugh, "and when he gets bored he starts picking on guys. But he's going to be the anchor of the offensive line. He has been for years, so we're not worried about him."
The reconstruction of the offense, which Martz is presiding over, is also far from a finished product, but it's getting there.
"We're not ready for the first game," coach Lovie Smith said. "No team is. But we like where we are at this stage. I would say we're exactly where we want to be going into training camp and the preseason."
Much of Martz's offense has been installed, but Cutler and Co. are a long way from mastering the subtleties and intricacies of a voluminous playbook with hundreds of plays that can be run from several formations.
"You're still trying to picture the play in your head when you're walking up to the line," Cutler said. "But as far as me, and (backup quarterback) Caleb [Hanie] would probably say the same thing, I think we're seeing things really well. We're going out there, and instead of thinking where guys are going to be, we're just seeing the defense and reacting. We just have to get everyone on the same page."
That will be the challenge when the Bears reconvene in Bourbonnais for the first training camp practice on July 30. Cutler says the initial signs are encouraging, and he's anxious to take the next step. It's an offense that just about any quarterback would embrace.
"I love it," Cutler said. "There's a lot to like about it. The ball's in the air, we're doing some great stuff in the run game, we're trying to get guys open and we're trying to find spaces for them we're trying to create matchups. Mike does a great job of that."
While Cutler and everyone else on the offense will admit that learning the Martz playbook is a chore, they'll also say that the additional homework is well worth the effort.
"It makes you want to come to work every day," Cutler said. "He is so creative. He's doing fun stuff, he's finding ways to win, and that's all you can ask for as a player is to have a coach that loves football and is going to do everything possible to put you in position to be successful. I think that's what the great coaches are able to do. That's what Mike's done in the past, and I don't see him changing his ways at all."
NOTES AND QUOTES
But only recently did he return to the practice field after missing most of the offseason practices as he recovers from Achilles tendon surgery. New offensive line coach Mike Tice was glad to see him on the field with the first team in Wednesday's final OTA.
"He's such a leader," Tice said. "He's got a great understanding and awareness of the defense and things they are trying to do. He's very confident in his calls. Confidence just oozes out of his pores." ...
Smith practically bristled when he was asked, at the end of OTAs, if he had a team that could compete for the playoffs.
"As far as 'compete,' that's not our goal, to compete," Smith said. "We have the same goal we have every year, and that's win the Super Bowl, win the world championship. It's early on, and you need to get in pads, but I just like the look of this team. I think you'll get that from most of our veterans. We know what a good football team looks like, and this is a good football team."
The Bears are 23-25 over the past three seasons, missing the playoffs each year. ...
Cutler is learning a new offense this offseason, just as he did last year, his first with the Bears.
A year ago, Cutler picked up Ron Turner's offense pretty easily, but he's had to work a little harder to get a handle on Martz's scheme.
"Last year's system I was familiar with that because some of the stuff I had done in the past," he said. "This year is completely new to myself as well as a lot of guys on the team, so it took a little bit more studying, a little bit more hard work mentally for us to come out here and be prepared. I think Mike did a great job of getting everyone ready in meetings of doing enough walkthroughs out here so that everyone feels comfortable." ...
When the Bears re-acquired safety Chris Harris in a trade with the Panthers for linebacker Jamar Williams, it didn't create nearly as much press as their free-agent pickups of Julius Peppers, Chester Taylor and Brandon Manumaleuna. But the Bears hope Harris will upgrade a safety tandem that disappointed last season. Harris started for the Bears as a rookie, after they drafted him in the sixth round in 2005. But he was deemed expendable during training camp in 2007, mainly because of the addition of Adam Archuleta, who was a major bust.
"Chris Harris coming back, [he] was exactly what I remember," Smith said. "He's moved right into that role. Chris will have more of a leadership role, too. He's a vocal guy. You have another coach on the field."
QUOTE TO NOTE
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A Lot to Love About New Martz System
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