Postcards from camp: Bears
The Bears have trained at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., about an hour south of Chicago, since 2002. But I still hear some folks around here fondly recall their training camp days in Platteville, Wis., where the team spent the 18 previous years. The facilities are said to be better here, but the nostalgia is probably attributable to the fact that
1. If you're wondering how the
Martz has always had a touch of
Wow. That's a mouthful for a quarterback who was so frustrated with his play at one point in Tuesday afternoon's practice that he fired a pass that hit one of the hospitality tents that line the field. When a reporter asked Martz about the perception that he and his quarterback, both strong-willed types, would struggle to mesh, he fairly well guffawed. "If you knew how silly that was and how easy things are between he and I,'' Martz said. "[I] just thoroughly enjoy his company, and just enjoy being around him outside the football part of it. He's got a great sense of humor, by the way. He's a little screwed up in his sense of humor like I am, so we kind of fit pretty good.''
Cutler reciprocated the love when he spoke to reporters shortly thereafter. "I think me and Mike have clicked very quickly in our relationship,'' he said. "We have the same goals and the same thought processes on and off the field. Mike's fun. It's been fun getting to know him and being around him. He's 24/7 football. There's no getting around that, but every once in a while, he has a few jokes. He has a few stories. It hasn't been a bad thing meeting with him a lot right now.''
It doesn't matter so much, of course, what they're saying in early August. It only matters how the Martz-and-Cutler marriage is clicking come September and beyond. So far, so good, but stay tuned.
2. Didn't get to see much practice time while I was with the Bears, but apparently
"That's what I haven't seen at all,'' Smith said, midday Wednesday. "He's done everything we asked him to do and more. Since we got in pads, now I'll say he's been dominant. I heard he takes plays off and all that stuff. But he has a chance to just dominate the game. I know it's early, but I've seen good defensive linemen before, and he's exactly where we want him to be at this point. He's going to show up every day for us.''
That's the idea. Especially given that he's set to earn $20 million in 2010. The Bears have lacked a pass rush for three years now, and Peppers is being paid to not only provide some, but to draw attention away from other Bears defenders so they can provide some heat of their own (
3. The happiest group in Bears camp are the receivers, because they know they're going to benefit from Martz's pass-centric offense. The Bears are talking about having a balanced approach, but everyone understands the ex-Rams head coach never met a forward pass he didn't love. I talked with
"I never really imagined us being so wide open like this,'' Hester said. "On designed plays you can actually find yourself wide open. I'm not used to that. That may be the hardest thing in football, catching a wide-open pass. It's like a fast break in basketball. If you're that wide open you can get some nerves going. But I love this offense. It fits the receivers we have.''
Despite bringing a gunslinger like Cutler in last season, no one on the Bears caught more than the 60 passes snared by tight end
"We're still Chicago and we have to be able to run the football, especially late [in the season],'' Smith said. "But we have offensive weapons at the skill positions and we have to be able to take advantage of that.''
Could it be that Martz wasn't even the best coaching hire named
Tice has made it clear that three spots on Chicago's offensive line are up for grabs, with only left tackle Williams and center
Tice will get the Bears line playing tougher and with more attention to detail, because that's his calling card. I saw his strong work up close when he had a bevy of Pro Bowl selections coaching the Vikings offensive line in the late '90s, and he's adept at getting the best from formerly underachieving players. The Bears gave up 35 sacks last season and at times Cutler's penchant for interceptions were a direct result of the line's breakdowns.
Not owning first- or second-round picks this year, the Bears aren't loaded with rookies. But safety
The Bears have been pleasantly surprised thus far in Wright's ability to make plays on the ball. He's aggressive in run support, but he has caught Smith's eye with a nose for the football in pass coverage. In the best-case scenario, Chicago this season will have a starting safety tandem of Wright and
Everywhere you look in Bears camp you see an ex-NFL head coach. There's Martz, the ex-Rams No. 1 guy over there working with Cutler and the offense. There's Tice, the ex-Vikings boss barking out orders to his offensive line. And there's
After stints in Detroit and San Francisco that didn't go exactly as planned, this may be Martz's final opportunity to re-establish his reputation as one of the game's premier offensive coordinators. He is one of the game's finest play-callers, and his creativity in that department should be a significant upgrade over the departed
1. Everybody knows the hot seat is cranking in Chicago this year, but you'll never get Smith to blink and acknowledge it. And I kind of like that. But he knows what's at stake this season, even if he doesn't feel the need to increase the pressure he faces by talking about it. The Bears have missed the playoffs for three consecutive seasons after their Super Bowl team of 2006, and a fourth out-of-the-money finish figures to bring his seven-year tenure to a close.
2. Recently retired 49ers receiver
3. Trying to get Cutler and Bears backup
5. I get the theory that the presence of Peppers should make everyone on the defensive line more effective, because teams will be keying on the former Panther. But I'm going to have to see Bears left end Mark Anderson produce in the sack department before I fully buy it. The 2006 sixth-round pick was a rookie sensation in Chicago with 12 sacks in the regular season and another 1 1/2 in the playoffs, as the Bears went to the Super Bowl. But he's had just 9 1/2 sacks in the three seasons since, and it's way past time for him to prove 2006 was no fluke.