What We Learned: Offensive OTAs

The Chicago Bears wrapped up the organized team activities (OTAs) last week, meaning we will not see them again till training camp starts up in July. What did we learn? Start with these five observations:

1. There are going to be more big plays in the passing game
New offensive coordinator Mike Martz has a reputation for pushing the envelope in the passing game and looking for big plays on most every snap, and that was clearly the case throughout the offseason training program at Halas Hall. On nearly every pass play, at least one receiver was running a pattern 20-plus yards downfield, with those deep dig routes – known as the "6" in Martz's numbers-based approach – a staple of the scheme Bears fans will see quite often. Former offensive coordinator Ron Turner called way too many quick screens to Devin Hester and shallow outs to Greg Olsen, and neither resulted in very many long catch-and-run opportunities.

Despite all that speed, Hester and Johnny Knox averaged only 13.3 and 11.7 yards per catch in 2009, respectively, putting both of them outside the top 50 in the league among wideouts that caught at least 10 passes.

2. It's too early to make any conclusions about the tight ends
When Martz was first hired in Chicago, rumors ran rampant all over town that the front office was trying to trade Olsen since the new offense would not be a tight end-friendly one. Shortly thereafter, the Bears signed Brandon Manumaleuna, who is more of a tackle than a tight end because of his blocking prowess, on the first day of free agency and muddied the picture even further for both Olsen and Desmond Clark. But with Manumaleuna missing the entirety of minicamp and OTAs as he comes back from an offseason knee scope, Olsen and Clark were running routes and catching passes just like they had the year before when Turner was on the headset.

Clark admitted following OTAs that he has no idea what is in store for the tight ends once Manumaleuna returns to practice, so while now it looks like Martz's aerial assault includes the tight end, that could change once we get to training camp.

3. Nobody has distinguished himself at left guard just yet
The only position on the offensive side of the football that is totally up for grabs is left guard, where Josh Beekman, Kevin Shaffer, Lance Louis and Johan Asiata all saw some action with the first stringers at some point. Shaffer eventually bowed out of the race and moved back to tackle, his natural position, which makes since because the Bears need an emergency swing tackle capable of playing both sides should either Chris Williams or Frank Omiyale come up lame. Beekman is by far the most experienced candidate and started 16 games at left guard during the 2008 campaign, but with Olin Kreutz nursing offseason Achilles surgery, Beekman was stuck playing center most of May and June.


WR Devin Aromashodu
AP Images: Nam Y. Huh

Should the Bears give the job to either Louis or Asiata, which is indeed possible, that means a second-year seventh-round pick (Louis) or a second-year undrafted free agent (Asiata) will line up between a six-time Pro Bowl selection (Kreutz) and a former first rounder (Williams).

4. Hester might be the third best wide receiver on this team
The top three receivers in the rotation, starters Hester and Knox coupled with do-it-all No. 3 Devin Aromashodu, were all outstanding throughout OTAs and look to be getting more comfortable in Martz's system with each passing day. But while Hester is still the one and only household name of the bunch, he may have slipped behind the explosive Knox and the sticky-handed Aromashodu in terms of expectations for 2010. That isn't a knock on Hester, as he remains the starting flanker (Z) and should have a new batch of trick plays to run courtesy of Martz, but both Knox and Aromashodu may be on the verge of breakout seasons.

It will be interesting to see who ends up being the No. 4 wideout behind Hester, Knox and Aromashodu, as 2009 starter Earl Bennett has struggled – Rashied Davis and Juaquin Iglesias, on the other hand, were strong in OTAs.

5. Don't look for another veteran QB to be added to the mix
Both Martz and general manager Jerry Angelo expressed at some point during the offseason that a veteran quarterback behind Cutler may be a good idea, despite the organization's confidence in third-year pro Caleb Hanie. The most logical choice was Marc Bulger, the two-time Pro Bowler with the Rams who replaced MVP Kurt Warner under Martz in St. Louis. But once Bulger agreed to terms with the Ravens last week, Hanie breathed a sigh of relief – especially after all the interceptions he fired during OTAs – and felt a little better about his job security.

Both Cutler and Hanie need all the reps they can get in training camp to get ready for Martz's offense in live-bullet situations, which means sixth-round pick Dan LeFevour will probably be the only other signal caller making the trip to Bourbonnais.


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John Crist is the Publisher of BearReport.com, a Heisman Trophy voter and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.


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