Chicago Bears: Aaron Kromer

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Jay Cutler's interactions with teammates and the media always seem to creep into the narrative about the quarterback, and on Tuesday Chicago Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said "we've absolutely noticed a difference in Jay."

Cutler admits he's changed, too.

Cutler
"It might be true. Anytime you are in an offense and have the same group of guys around you, it's going to be more comfortable. It is for me anyway," Cutler said. "I like the group of guys we have in the locker room, understand what we are doing offensively. And it's early. It's still preseason with you guys."

Described as petulant to the media in the past with televised on-field blowups with teammates and coaches as evidence that he's been difficult to get along with, Cutler hasn't displayed such qualities so far. But to Cutler's credit, he didn't in 2013 either.

Going into 2014, Kromer believes Cutler is taking on more of a leadership role. He's moved on to a new staff led by an offensive-minded head coach in Marc Trestman. He's finally protected well, and not taking unnecessary punishment every time he drops back to pass. He's surrounded by a bevy of weapons on offense, and playing in an offensive system he believes in strongly on a new seven-year contract.

"I think everyone in the building has noticed a difference in Jay," Kromer said. "None of us knew Jay very well before getting here last year, and we worked through the year and that first year is always hard on everybody. But what I see in Jay Cutler right now is a guy that's the leading the group; a guy that is approachable, and is working to make everybody better because he realizes it's important that everybody is on the same page with him."

New receiver Santonio Holmes admitted as much Monday, saying the quarterback has "taken me under his wing, talked to me, and kept me close." The expectation is Cutler's approach will translate into victories this season. During training camp, Brandon Marshall called Cutler "a totally different person," adding that "I think he has great balance in is life now."

"He's talked with receivers. He's talked with linemen. He's working with running backs constantly," Kromer said. "That's a maturity on his part of knowing the offense, knowing what we want as coaches and feeling good about being the leader that he is. It's been a very good start of the year that way."

Will it continue? Well, it did in 2013 despite the Bears finishing 8-8 in a season in which Cutler was forced to miss time due to injuries on two occasions.

Cutler seems to now totally understand the value of making everyone else around him better, which is part of the reason that within an hour of Holmes signing his contract on Saturday, the two were on the field together working on plays to develop a rapport as quickly as possible. Cutler displayed similar qualities in 2013, too.

"If Santonio Holmes is going to play, Jay's going to rely on him," Kromer said. "Jay knows he has to be on the same page with him. So the faster he can get to know him, the better off he's going to be and that's Jay's goal."
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears continue to ponder whether to play recent signee Santonio Holmes on Friday night at Seattle due to the receiver's limited exposure to the offense.

Bears coach Marc Trestman said he hasn't yet made a determination.

"I can't say that right now," Trestman said. "I think we're trying to get him to that place. I think I'll know a little bit more after practice tomorrow. We'll see where he's at. We'll talk to him and we'll see if he's ready to go and get some playing time."

Holmes
Holmes participated in the club's Tuesday workout inside the Walter Payton Center and Trestman "thought he worked positively today." Within an hour of signing his contract with the Bears on Saturday, Holmes and quarterback Jay Cutler were on the field working together; the quarterback administering a crash course to the receiver on the nuances of the club's offense.

What Cutler notices is Holmes still possesses the speed and explosion that made him one of the league's most feared deep threats at one time, but it might be too lofty an expectation -- despite recent efforts -- for the duo to strike on-field accord by the time takes the field to face the Seahawks.

"He obviously knows how to play football," Cutler said. "He's been around a long time, been in a few different systems and been successful. It's just a matter of getting him caught up with our verbiage, how we like to do things, the little tweaks we like, and just kind of get in a rapport with him timing wise. It just takes time. He's explosive. He'd probably be honest [and tell you] he's a little bit rusty. He's been out of football. But getting in and out of cuts, [he] catches the ball well, extremely explosive, fast. He's exciting. It's hard coming in where we are offensively and just kind of throwing him into the mix."

With second-year receiver Marquess Wilson out of action due to a fractured clavicle suffered in training camp, the Bears hope to find a suitable slot receiver to complement Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. Trestman said veteran Josh Morgan deserves the first opportunity to work with the starters Friday at Seattle, but Cutler believes the team could have Holmes ready to play by the Sept. 7 regular-season opener against Buffalo.

Morgan has caught five passes for 77 yards through the first two games of the preseason, and outside of Holmes, appears to be the most capable fill-in option at the No. 3 receiver spot.

"He's had two good weeks of practice, two good games, productive games," Trestman said. "He's made plays out there. I think he deserves a chance to step up now and get the first opportunity to do that. He's a powerful guy. He's explosive. He's got straight-line speed, and he's got experience. He's the most experienced, other than Santonio, of any of the receivers that we have."

If Morgan falters, the club appears confident it can get Holmes up to speed quickly enough for him to have an immediate impact in the regular season. Kromer said Holmes "has been impressive in practice. Especially today, he stood out."

Still, Trestman wants Holmes to develop enough of a comfort level with the system before the club rushes him out onto the field.

"I just want him to feel comfortable to be able to go in there and perform and not put our team in a position where his mistakes would create mistakes around him," Trestman said. "We want to give him the best chance to succeed on an individual basis as well."

A ninth-year veteran, and the MVP of Super Bowl XLIII, Holmes has caught 381 passes for 5,963 yards over eight years with the Pittsburgh Steelers (2006-09), and New York Jets (2010-13). Holmes could also become a contributor on special teams, as he's returned 66 punts for 636 yards and a touchdown in addition to 18 kickoffs for 436 yards.

But do the Bears have enough time to prepare Holmes for the limelight?

"We'll find out," Cutler said. "I think [we do]. We might have to help him along in the huddle and make sure he knows what he's doing. But we've got enough veteran guys. We can get him to where he needs to be."
Aaron KromerAP Photo/Nam Y. HuhOffensive coordinator Aaron Kromer works with QB Adam Kennedy during the Bears' rookie camp.
Red-faced, his hair a sticky, wet mess, quarterback David Fales strolled off the field fresh off his first experience with a Marc Trestman football practice during a recent three-day rookie minicamp, describing it as “chaos, bring the rage, intense.”

In 2014, Year 2 of operating Trestman’s offense after a breakout 2013 campaign, that’s exactly what the Chicago Bears hope to deliver to opposing defenses. The plan to do that involves a mixture of comfort in Year 2 of the scheme and a focus in the playbook on what the players did well in 2013, while also finding ways to expand the system based on the latter.

So far, the process looks promising, according to coaches and players.

“I don’t want to say there’s a comfort level, but there’s not a complacent level with how we’re handling things,” Trestman said. “Our guys have worked extremely hard. They have a tremendous grasp of the offense. With that in mind, we started with 'this is a football,' and we worked our way into each and every phase in a normal progression. But there certainly is a sense of confidence, a sense that we’ve got a chance to be a very good offense; particularly because those are guys that have been together. But they’re not taking anything for granted.”

That becomes quite apparent if you’ve tracked any of the moves made this offseason by the club’s veteran offensive players on social media. There you’ll find group selfies such as the one left tackle Jermon Bushrod posted in March that included right tackle Jordan Mills, receivers Brandon Marshall and Marquess Wilson, tight end Fendi Onobun, center Roberto Garza, guard Kyle Long and quarterback Jay Cutler. So it’s apparent they’re spending copious amounts of time together training, running through repetitions on offense, and building chemistry through off-the-field fellowship, as a good portion of the club’s offensive players traveled to Florida to train at FitSpeed Athletic Performance, which is co-owned by Marshall.

In their first season operating Trestman’s scheme, the offense set multiple single-season franchise records. The unit racked up a franchise-best 6,109 net yards and the passing offense set single-season marks in net passing yards (4,281), completion percentage (64.4), passing touchdowns (32) and passer rating (96.9). The Bears also set franchise records with 344 first downs and scored the second-most points (445) in franchise history.

Yet nobody -- especially the players -- is basking in the accomplishments from last year because let’s not forget the Bears finished out of the playoffs with an 8-8 record last season. Cutler has won only one playoff game in eight NFL seasons, and he recently turned 31. Marshall, meanwhile, despite making the Pro Bowl five times in eight seasons, still hasn't played in a postseason contest.

So despite the breakout performance on offense last season, there's still a feverish sense of urgency for the group in 2014 to reach its full potential. Ask any of the skill-position players about 2013, and there's a good chance you get the standard we-left-a-lot-on-the–field line.

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler and Brandon Marshall
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhQB Jay Cutler and WR Brandon Marshall will draw from their leadership skills and two seasons playing together to help elevate the Bears' offense in 2014.
“You know, it was a long journey last year from this first day when we started, just to get the cadence,” offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said. “It was like rookie camp with veterans, and it’s always hard when you have a new staff because you’re working so hard on just the plays, how we call things, what we should be looking at, the technique we want different from other teams, that you don’t get the nuance of the play. You have to get yourself past the whole, ‘This is who I block, this is what route I run, this is who I throw it to.’

"So it’s been refreshing being with Jay Cutler, the offensive line and the running backs. And when you install a play from last year, they look at you like, ‘I remember.’ I’m making a big point, and we as a staff are making a big point of, ‘listen closely to what we’re coaching because you probably missed a couple of things last year.’ So we’re doing everything we can to have them pay attention to the little things.

“What are the little things? The little things are things they didn’t get before.”

When the Bears hired Trestman in January 2013, the staff didn’t even know what type of offense it would run. The coaches had an idea of how the players might fit, but not how they’d actually operate within the system the staff was installing.

That’s why as the year progressed last season “we became more efficient as an offense,” Kromer said.

The club gradually narrowed the playbook to feature what the team did well and what the players -- especially Cutler -- liked to do most. That narrowing continues this offseason. But at the same time, the team wants to broaden the system, as Kromer explained, “from that spectrum” of what the players already do well.

“Any group that can play together for a few years is good,” Marshall told the “Carmen & Jurko” show on ESPN 1000 on Tuesday. “It’s going to be awesome to see us grow because of the experience and the time we’re able to put in during the offseason. Now we bring in Coach Trestman going in his second year, and he’s really putting science behind all of his madness. It’s bringing everybody together, and it’s really cool to see what’s going on in our locker room. I’ve never been with a bunch of selfless guys like this. Everyone is just all-in, whether it’s the running game, the passing game. Everyone believes [and is] pulling for each other. It’s cool, man. It’s awesome to be part of this crew.”

Trestman called the process of working with Kromer, the staff and Cutler this offseason to tweak the playbook for 2014 “excellent.”

“We’ve narrowed some of the things we did last year, and we’ve expanded to some of the things we want to take a look at,” Trestman said. “We still have a pretty long list of plays in our playbook, so to speak, to keep it simple. It’s just the daily process of working through the plays, getting better, evaluating what we did last year, working to improve, and then working into the new football that we’ve put in.”

Will it all work this season? That’s the big unknown. But the body of work the offense put on the field in 2013 provided plenty of reasons to be optimistic headed into the season. In addition to the new coaching staff bringing in an unfamiliar scheme, the Bears put together a brand new offensive line as Garza was the only returning starter from 2012. It’s also easy to forget Marshall spent all of last offseason rehabbing from arthroscopic hip surgery, and was hobbled throughout the early part of the season.

Now, everyone’s healthy, and familiar with the system. Most importantly, they're hungry.

“Team goals, I would say just enjoy the journey,” Marshall said. “But of course we definitely want to be in Arizona [for the Super Bowl]. That’s going to be really tough. We have to put it together. On paper, we look great, but we have to go out there and do it. We have the guys that can upstairs, [and] downstairs. So we’ll see how it goes.”
As Chicago eyes free agency next month, we’ll take a look back at the top players from the 2013 class of free agents, how they performed in their first year with the Bears and their prospects for 2014. Here we look at offensive tackle Jermon Bushrod:

Bushrod
Money: Signed a five-year contract worth a little more than $35.965 million that included $17.715 million in guarantees.

Stats: None, but as one of four new starters on the offensive line, Bushrod helped the Bears set a franchise record in yards (6,109) as the club finished with a 4.9 sack percentage on 609 drop backs, which ranked as the club’s sixth-lowest sack percentage since 1982, when sacks became an official statistic.

2013 role: Of all the free-agent offensive linemen available, Bushrod had allowed the most combined sacks, hits and hurries, but he still represented an upgrade over the inconsistent J’Marcus Webb. Bushrod became an immediate starter on the offensive line, and protected the blindside of quarterback Jay Cutler in addition to helping his position group adjust to the new blocking schemes brought to the club by coach Marc Trestman and offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer, who the tackle had previously worked with in New Orleans. A Pro Bowler in 2012, Bushrod started all 16 games at left tackle for the Bears.

The good: Chicago surrendered just 30 sacks, which ranks as the club’s fewest since 2008 and the second fewest for the Bears in seven seasons, and Bushrod played a major role in that. On the season, Bushrod was responsible for four sacks, and that number perhaps could have been greater when taking into account the Bears now utilize an offense designed to get the ball out of the quarterback’s hands quicker. Perhaps one of Bushrod’s greatest accomplishments in 2013 came in helping the rest of the offensive line learn the team’s new blocking schemes because of his experience working with Kromer in New Orleans. Bushrod was slightly better than average in pass protection. But when Chicago ran the ball behind Bushrod over left tackle, it averaged 5.03 yards per attempt, which ranked as 12th in the NFL.

The bad: In addition to the four sacks Bushrod surrendered, he also allowed nine hits and 42 quarterback pressures. By comparison, in 2012 Webb gave up seven sacks, five hits and 30 hurries. But Webb’s salary wasn’t near what the Bears paid to land Bushrod. So he’s got to perform at a level commensurate to what the Bears are paying. In addition, Bushrod tied with tight end Martellus Bennett for the team lead in penalties (seven). Luckily for the Bears those penalties resulted in only one stalled drive. Five of the flags were called for holding (three) or false start (two). Bushrod’s 2013 season was an improvement over what he did in 2012, but not by much. In 2012, Bushrod gave up four sacks, eight hits and 45 hurries.

2014 outlook: Bushrod is set to count $7.3 million against Chicago’s salary cap in 2014. So while he didn’t play horribly in 2013, he needs to play at the level he’s being paid: as an elite pass-protector. Bushrod knows that, and should improve in Year 2 with the Bears as the offensive line continues to develop chemistry. Down the stretch of 2013, Bushrod displayed signs of improvement. Over the last five games of the season, he surrendered a sack, two hits and six pressures after giving up a sack, three hits and 20 pressures in the five games previous. So perhaps Bushrod can carry that momentum into 2014 because he’ll certainly need to for the Bears to improve upon a strong 2013 campaign in the first year of Trestman’s offense.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Shaking his head and smiling, Josh McCown paused for a couple of seconds Thursday to consider how someone could hear his thick Texas drawl in the huddle and think it’s reminiscent of “a combination of Jesus and Ben Stiller,” as tight end Martellus Bennett had just described it minutes earlier.

“Uh, I’m trying to process Ben Stiller and Jesus,” McCown said, laughing. “I just want to be there to listen to them two talk, because I think that would be cool.”

McCown took some ribbing for his accent at Halas Hall this week, with offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer joking the quarterback’s drawl “slowed [offensive calls] down just a little bit.” But nobody inside the locker room or the organization is complaining about the results produced by McCown, who is 2-0 in relief of starting quarterback Jay Cutler.

[+] EnlargeJosh McCown
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesJosh McCown's play has earned him high praise indeed from his Bears coaches and teammates.
McCown has completed 61 of 101 passes for 754 yards and five touchdowns, with no interceptions, to go with a passer rating of 100.0, and the Bears' offense hasn’t seemed to skip a beat without Cutler in the picture.

Coming into the season, McCown, 34, owned a record of 13-20 as a starter, which makes his recent success seem somewhat improbable.

“Someone once said a long time ago, the difference between a very good player and an average player is reps,” St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. “And that’s clearly what we see on tape with Josh. He’s a fine football player. He’s playing very well. His numbers reflect that.”

McCown attributes his success to a combination of factors, ranging from a more mature approach to the game to the bevy of weapons surrounding him, not to mention a strong belief in the scheme brought to Chicago by Bears coach Marc Trestman. McCown hasn’t started more than two games in a season since 2007, when he struggled to a 2-7 record with the Oakland Raiders.

Even after that bout of adversity, a year out of the game in 2010, and mostly fruitless stops with two more teams (including Chicago), McCown doesn’t “know if I allowed myself” to consider whether he’d ever again receive an opportunity to start in the NFL.

“I wasn’t hoping it would happen. I wasn’t going, ‘I can’t wait until Jay gets hurt so I get a chance,’” McCown said. “It was just more of every day trying to get better so that if I have to play, I’ll be ready to play and be productive. Nothing more than that, and nothing more than just so I can be productive for this team right now. On whatever day that is, can I go out and play good football and give us a chance to win the ballgame?”

McCown obviously has answered that question in the affirmative in his last two outings. Asked about the quarterback’s winding career path, Trestman said, “You just learn that every quarterback’s on their own journey.”

“You look at the history of the game and where quarterbacks come from. Some are drafted in the first round and do well, others don’t. Others are drafted the 199th pick in the draft, and they wind up winning three Super Bowls and are Hall of Famers. Other guys are working in a grocery store one year and the next year they’re MVPs in Super Bowls,” Trestman said. “Another guy I coached didn’t start playing until he was 29 years old, and he’s in the Hall of Fame today. So they all have their own way of reaching this moment.

“Josh in an unselfish guy who works very hard, who just has been working hard his whole career, doing whatever’s asked of him to do, and he’s in a position to help this football team, and I don’t think he’s carrying it on his shoulders. Everybody is on their own journey in their own place emotionally, physically, and you know Josh is in that place right now.”

In the huddle, however, McCown seems right at home, despite Bennett’s colorful description.

Asked how McCown sounds in the huddle, Bennett said, “Ben Stiller, maybe, but Ben Stiller in ‘Heavyweights.’ Yeah, it’s a little country, but it’s a combination of Jesus and Ben Stiller.”

“We’ve all heard Jesus,” the tight end added. “But some of us aren’t listening.”

Bears lighten practice load

November, 21, 2013
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- When the St. Louis Rams host the Chicago Bears on Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome, it will be the first time they have played in two weeks, which means they will be sufficiently rested.

That is why the Bears are working to lighten the load this week at Halas Hall.

“Their defense is gonna be fresh,” Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said. “So we’ve made an emphasis on having them not come in on Monday, giving them a break, telling them to stay off their feet, stay at home, rest, study tape on their iPads. But don’t get up. Then, we cut practice this week some reps to try to get our guys as fresh as we can, rested.”

The Bears cut practice short about 10 minutes on Thursday, and it is expected the Bears will conduct another light workout on Friday. Bears coach Marc Trestman, like Kromer, anticipates a fresh St. Louis team on Sunday, and given the Rams’ speed, and the fact the teams meet on turf, that is somewhat concerning.

Trestman hopes to get his players “off their feet” leading into Sunday’s game because the club “played a hard game on Sunday on a soft field [against the Baltimore Ravens]. So [we want to] try to get their legs back.”

Four Downs: Minimal dropoff with Bostic?

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Jon BosticAP Photo/Scott BoehmJon Bostic will make his first NFL start on Sunday against the Redskins.
While veteran D.J. Williams recovered from a calf strain that kept him out of the preseason, many clamored for rookie Jon Bostic to win the middle linebacker job. Now with Williams shelved for the season because of a torn pectoral muscle, Bostic is getting his chance.

What can be expected of the second-round pick who has played almost entirely on special teams to this point? Our panel weighs in on that and more:

First Down

Fact or Fiction: The Bears won't lose much with rookie Jon Bostic taking over for the injured D.J. Williams.


[+] EnlargeJonathan Bostic
AP Photo/Scott BoehmRookie Jon Bostic showed his hard-hitting style in the preseason.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. The Bears were pleased with Williams at middle linebacker. The veteran shook off the rust that plagued him in the first couple of weeks to record, by the team's count, 35 tackles, two tackles for loss, two sacks and a forced fumble. Williams is the fifth-leading tackler on the team after six games, even though he was primarily used as a two-down linebacker, coming off the field in nickel situations. Williams is an experienced and savvy veteran. Bostic is a rookie. There are going to be bumps in the road. He is extremely athletic and has shown an ability to make big plays, but at his core, he is still a rookie. Bostic will make mistakes. The Bears just hope those mistakes don't result in touchdowns. The Bears always viewed Bostic as a future starter, but the plan was for Williams to handle middle linebacker in 2013. Now that plan is null and void and the team will have to adjust. Bostic is a good option, but he's not the best option. At least, not this season.

Jon Greenberg: Fiction. Everyone was excited in the preseason because Bostic is athletic and knows how to play in an aggressive, takeaway-hungry defense. But this is about more than storylines and draft status. Bostic lacks Williams' experience in the NFL. That's a pretty simple statement, but it's the real issue. Bostic can't learn experience, that intuition you earn by playing in enough games to let muscle memory take over. Bostic told me in training camp about watching Lance Briggs with admiration, as the veteran knew exactly where the play was going. Bostic doesn't have that yet, and the Bears have to hope he's a quick learner so he can realize the right fits between the gaps. Williams knew them. After missing the entire preseason, he slid right in without missing a beat.


Second Down

Fact or Fiction: The Lions are a bigger threat to the Bears in the division than the Packers.


[+] EnlargeNick Perry
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsThe Packers handed the Lions one of their two losses this season.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. The road to the NFC North title still runs through Green Bay. Until the Bears prove they can beat the Packers, Marc Trestman's team cannot be considered one of the NFC's elite. Jay Cutler is having a solid season, but he needs to defeat Green Bay to truly get over the hump. Cutler has one victory over the Packers since he arrived in Chicago in 2009, and if the Packers don't commit a staggering number of penalties that 2010 night at Soldier Field, Cutler would be winless against the division foe. This is still Green Bay's division. The Lions like to run their mouths, but that franchise has accomplished next to nothing. The Bears have a great shot to knock off Detroit in November at Soldier Field. But can they do the same against the Packers? That remains the larger unanswered question.

Jon Greenberg: Fiction. Both are threats, of course, but the road to the division goes through Green Bay. Detroit obviously has the edge on the Bears, but they still have to win at Soldier Field. The Bears need to take one of two against the Packers this season. And if Cutler can just play a clean game in Green Bay in two weeks, that will exorcise some of his demons with the NFC North titans. Cutler needs to aim for the Packers.


Third Down

Fact or Fiction: Marc Trestman's system is most responsible for Cutler being sacked only nine times this season.


[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesJay Cutler has been sacked nine times this season, tied for second-fewest in the NFL.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. Trestman's desire that Cutler get rid of the ball in a timely fashion definitely helps. But to attribute the improved pass protection primarily to the system is unfair. The Bears are simply better up front. Why it took the organization so long to assemble a good offensive line is beyond me, but general manager Phil Emery accomplished in one offseason what the previous administration failed to do in the post-Super Bowl years of 2007-2012. Let's give some credit to Roberto Garza, Jermon Bushrod, Matt Slauson, Kyle Long and Jordan Mills for keeping Cutler upright. Aaron Kromer also deserves a mention. Although Trestman runs the offense, Kromer controls the offensive line and has played an important role in developing the two rookies on the right side. Cutler himself has done a nice job avoiding the rush, and the receivers also play a role in protection. This has been a collective effort since the start of the season. If it continues, the Bears' offense will only get better.

Jon Greenberg: Fiction. Of course his play calling, getting the ball out quicker and such, is a big factor, but you can't discount the play of the offensive line and Cutler's trust in his receivers. While coaching is a bigger factor in the NFL than in the other major professional sports, the guys on the field are still the ones who have to execute. For most of the first six games, Cutler has had time to throw because his linemen, and additional blockers, have held up their end. It helps that Cutler isn't locking in on one player or one option. Kromer has certainly helped there, too, but give credit where credit's due here.


Fourth Down

Fact or Fiction: The Bears will beat the Redskins if they hold Robert Griffin III in check.


[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
AP Photo/Richard LipskiHaving to dig out of deficits all season, the Redskins and QB Robert Griffin III have been especially pass-heavy on offense.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. The Bears are just a better team. However, Griffin remains a wild card. I have a ton of respect for RG III and the way he returned to the starting lineup only eight months after suffering a serious knee injury that required surgery. But he just doesn't quite look the same this season. As a rookie, he was a dynamic multipurpose threat. This year he's been more of a pocket passer with a 59.8 completion percentage and 80.4 passer rating. There is always a chance RG III has a big game against a shaky Bears defense. But if the Bears keep RG III in check, it's hard to imagine the Redskins doing enough to win the game, even with it being at FedEx Field.

Jon Greenberg: Fact. Griffin showed more athleticism last week, albeit in a loss to Dallas, but he's scary because of his arm, not just his legs. With time Griffin is still very, very dangerous. And the Bears' defense is giving quarterbacks time with a flaccid pass rush. With their ballhawks in the secondary, the Bears need to force him into some quick decisions, and they especially need to force him into some third-and-long situations. Julius Peppers, for one, needs to make an impact this week.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Two consecutive Chicago Bears losses left the team unflustered in their preparation to face the winless New York Giants on Thursday night at Soldier Field.

In the aftermath of a 26-18 loss to the New Orleans Saints, the club took it upon itself to review tape from the game and put together a critical self-analysis. That approach leaves Bears coach Marc Trestman and offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer optimistic about the team’s prospects, especially on offense.

“It was a short week. We weren’t able to show the entire tape like we normally do. They watched it all on their own, gave us the reports of: ‘This is what should’ve happened. This is what we should’ve done. We see this here. This is what we did well,’” offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said. “So, obviously, when you have a team that driven to get something solved or to continue to have success, there should be success in the future.”

According to Trestman, the team’s approach in the midst of its three-game winning streak has remained the same on the heels of back-to-back losses.

“Our response the last five weeks has been exactly the same by our team, in every way. If it wasn’t, I would tell you,” Trestman said. “From the way they came back in, the way they handled themselves in the locker room after the game. The disappointment, yet the camaraderie and the way they came together early Monday to get ready for this game and move forward. They’re doing all the right things. They’re working at it. It doesn’t guarantee us a win [Thursday] night. But it gives us a chance, when your mind’s in the right place, your energy’s in the right place, and you’re willing to be a good teammate.”
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer took exception Wednesday to the perception that the club has struggled in the running game and at adequately protecting quarterback Jay Cutler.

The Bears gave up three sacks in their first 12 plays from scrimmage Sunday in a loss to the New Orleans Saints, and the ground game churned out 94 yards with the offense in pass mode due to the club falling behind 20-7 at the break.

"Right now, if you look at statistically where we are -- and that's what a lot of people do; we're seventh in the league in rushing yards per carry, and we're sixth in the league in sacks given up," Kromer said. "So we have had one [bad] quarter and everyone panics that we can't play football in Chicago anymore. I say they're wrong."

Kromer's partially correct in his assessment.

The Bears rank 11th in the NFL in total offense (368.6 yards per game), are tied for sixth in rushing average (4.6 yards per carry) and are tied for fifth in sacks allowed as just one of seven teams in the league to surrender fewer than 10 through the first five games.

Chicago's offense is also No. 3 in the NFL in scoring (29 points per game).

Perhaps the offense's two most pronounced areas of deficiency are third-down conversion percentage (36) and average time of possession (29:10), two areas in which the team is 21st in the NFL. Last week's game skews Chicago's overall time of possession stat somewhat, given the offense possessed the ball for just 24 minutes while the Saints maintained possession for 36.

So despite the Bears losing two in a row, the club knows the season hasn't gotten away; that they're still trending upward offensively in terms of development.

"I think the key is you keep doing the things you know are right. You keep working on the things to make the corrections. You stay even-keeled," Bears coach Marc Trestman said. "You don't lose your mind. You try to have common sense about it. You know it's a long road. It's a long journey and anything can happen, and you try not to reach and do things that others think you maybe should be doing. You try to be real pragmatic about it. We continue to grade ourselves, critique ourselves and try to find ways that we can detail our work and get better."

At this point, that's all the team should be doing to ensure they've developed sufficiently enough that during the playoff push in November and December they're able to deliver.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The last time Jay Cutler tossed three or more interceptions in a game (Sept. 13, 2012), the Chicago Bears would proceed to run off a string of six consecutive wins.

Prior to that, he threw four picks in a 2010 loss to Washington, with the Bears running off five straight starting the next week to win the division and advance to the NFC Championship. So naturally, with Cutler coming off a three-interception (four total turnovers) nightmare in last week's loss to the Detroit Lions, the assumption is the Chicago Bears could be on the verge of something big starting with Sunday's game against the New Orleans Saints.

Cutler certainly hopes so.

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
AP Photo/Paul SancyaThe Lions will be looking for Ndamukong Suh to give the defense a spark on Sunday against Dallas.
"I hope you're right. It's gonna happen," Cutler said. "What you don't want to see is three turnovers, three turnovers, three turnovers, consecutive weeks like that. If you can minimize those, you're going to be in a better place, obviously."

The staff hasn't lost faith in Cutler's ability to get the Bears there.

"There were three good performances [to start the season] and one, as we said, he would want back," Bears coach Marc Trestman said. "But he's been unflappable in practice. I just think it's the unflappability and the emotional stability of just being able to move on to the next play and isolating that play as the only one that really is important, and then forgetting about it and moving on."

But Cutler hasn't yet caught amnesia regarding the performance at Detroit last week, one in which he completed 57.4 of his passes for a passer rating of 65.6. Cutler admitted that feelings of accountability for what transpired against the Lions have affected his preparation for the Saints in a way that gives him the mentality that he must "take care of the ball" because "we can't give them free opportunities."

"Sometimes it's hard to walk back into that locker room and know that, 'Hey, I was responsible for four turnovers,' and you put your team in that position," Cutler said. "It makes you feel bad because I thought the defense played their butts off. Offensive line did a great job. It just brings everything into perspective of how it important it is; how important my job is of taking care of the ball, and making sure I put ourselves in a position to win each week."

Tight end Martellus Bennett doesn't "think Jay needs to bounce back from anything" when the Bears host the Saints, and isn't concerned about Cutler's mistakes from last week lingering. After all, the Bears trailed 30-13 at halftime last week yet still had a chance to tie the score in the final minute despite Cutler committing four turnovers.

Cutler finished the prior three games before the loss at Detroit with passer ratings of at least 90.8, while completing at least 63.6 percent of his throws.

"He did a great job toward the end of the game. He threw three touchdowns," Bennett said. "He bounced back very well. I'm not really worried about it."

Offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer isn't concerned either and mentioned Cutler "has improved his mechanics a bunch" since the start of the season, but against Detroit the club got "in that situation [where] you're throwing it 40 times straight" and "once you turn it into an al-passing game, no one is going to have success."

Cutler, meanwhile, remains acutely aware of the situation he put the Bears in last week (although the first interception to Louis Delmas wasn't the quarterback's fault), and knows what needs to be done for the offense to continue progressing.

Cutler said the Bears are "definitely better" now than the team has been in the past with new offenses.

"I don't know what Marc's expectations were. But if we limit turnovers last week I think we're in a lot better spot," Cutler said. "The Pittsburgh game [in Week 3], we didn't have the production we wanted, but it was a different type of ballgame. In the first two [games], we made plays in the fourth quarter and were pretty efficient. If we keep heading in that direction I think we'll be all right."

Should we expect a new Jay Cutler in 2013?

September, 5, 2013
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Jay Cutler’s drop-backs against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday likely won’t include the familiar sight of him patting the ball indecisively, as the pass rush comes barreling through the protection.

Instead, expect rhythmic, on-time throws from what might be shaping up to be a new Cutler in a new Bears offense under coach Marc Trestman.

“In the new offense and where we’re at right now, I think this is probably the most comfortable I’ve felt in a new offense, [despite] not having as many reps as somebody [who is in] Year 2 or 3 of the offense,” Cutler said. “We want to get rid of the ball quick. You don’t really want to give 97 [Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins] and those other guys a lot of time to work into their second moves because they get to the quarterback. They get to the quarterback a lot, and they show you a lot of different fronts, which makes it even more difficult trying to figure out who’s who. So we’ve got to be on it with our protection game, and on the outside, guys have got to get open quickly.”

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
Rob Grabowski/USA TODAY SportsFiery Bears QB Jay Cutler appeared to be a happy camper this summer. Will that hold during the regular season?
Although the Raiders took on the look of inferior competition when the Bears faced them on Aug. 23, Cutler’s performance provided a glimpse of what this new offense might blossom into at some point this season. Given that it was the third preseason game -- widely viewed as the most important -- it marked the first time the coaching staff actually game planned a defense, and pulled real plays from the playbook as opposed to keeping the scheme basic as a deterrent to revealing too much to future opponents.

Cutler responded by hitting 3 of 5 passes for 70 yards and a touchdown during Chicago’s first two drives, before finishing the game with 142 yards passing and a 93.8 rating in two quarters of action.

The staff expects a similar performance Sunday with more extensive game planning and the team going deeper into the playbook to utilize concepts that work best for Cutler.

“I think Jay, just as we saw in the third preseason game when we really amped it up and ran our offense, I thought he did a good job with getting the ball off is what we said at the time, and the timing with which he did that, and the way he ran the offense was impressive, and he’s done it ever since,” offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said. “So we feel good about entering this game.”

The staff and Cutler expect some mistakes, though.

“There’s gonna be bumps in the road. There’s gonna be some missed assignments; just want to minimize them as much as we can,” said Cutler, who Trestman has described all preseason as being “even-keeled.”

Throughout Cutler’s career in Chicago, “even-keeled” seems to have been the antithesis of the quarterback.

Even Trestman admits he “really won’t know” the truth about Cutler “until some adversity hits.” But the coach expects Cutler to not deviate very far from the quarterback he’s been.

“He’s a fiery guy and I think people know that,” Trestman said. “He’s a very competitive, tough man and tough player. So I expect some of that to come out as we move along. I think he’s been very even-keeled as far as his preparation, work ethic and determination to learn and get things done from his position standpoint.”

Trestman considers the fiery element of Cutler as something “universal in guys who are confident in their abilities, their skill set, both physical and emotional skill set. I think that’s pretty common.” That’s why Trestman won’t attempt to quell Cutler during those times when he does suffer the occasional blowup.

“His demeanor, because he is the quarterback, is critically important. I think there’s going to be moments like that, that’s just part of who he is and I’m not going to take that away from him,” Trestman said. “From my standpoint, I don’t think you’re going to see somebody firing back. I’m going to let him wear himself out, get it off his chest, tell him to go back and play the next play. At the end of the day, I know that when a player gets that way, that’s not really who he is. It’s an emotional game, and guys are going to lose it for a minute. The most important thing is to get back to move on to the next situation. That’s what I hope to do is to, just be there to help him get on to the next play, the next quarter, the next game, whatever it might be. That’s part of my job to help him do that.”

Cutler’s job, meanwhile, is to move the offense; put it in the best position to succeed by making smart, timely decisions and taking care of the football. Left tackle Jermon Bushrod recognizes the potential difficulty in that.

“He has a lot that he has to take on, mentally, to take Coach Trestman’s and Coach Kromer’s ideas and philosophies from the classroom to the playing field. Then, he has to take it to the [game] come Sunday,” Bushrod said. “He’s doing a great job picking it up, and I can see it every day with him making calls and putting us in the right position to do what we have to do.”

Trestman thinks this year “we’re going to find out where [Cutler] is” as a quarterback.

Cutler, meanwhile, seems to relish the challenge.

“I’m just kind of a piece of the puzzle. It takes those 10 other guys to do their jobs for me to do mine,” Cutler said. “That being said, at the quarterback position we do have a lot of pressure. There’s a lot of responsibility. I own up to that each and every day.”

#NFLRank: Matt Forte sits at No. 48

August, 26, 2013
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Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte on Monday made the latest installment of ESPN's NFL Rank project, which lists the top 100 offensive and defensive players in the league heading into this season.

Forte enters his sixth season in 2013, and ranked No. 48 among offensive players headed into this year, one spot behind Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (No. 47) and Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III (46).

ESPN Stats & Information said this about Forte:

“Since entering the league in2008, Forte has 15 100-yard rushing games. The Bears are 14-1 in those games. Of the 19 running backs with at least 10 100-yard games over that span, Forte’s 14-1 record is the best.”

That’s not a surprise, considering the brand of football the Bears play, which is highlighted by a stifling, turnover-producing defense that allows the team to play keep-away.

Football Outsiders said: “Matt Forte’s struggles at the goal line, and shaky O-line has held him back a bit.”

I agree with the second part of that sentence, but disagree with the first part. Statistically, the numbers definitely indicate Forte has struggled from the goal line in the past. But I don’t think he’s a guy that can’t get it done on the goal line.

Forte provided proof of that against the San Diego Chargers on Aug. 15. From the 11-yard line, the Bears handed to Forte on three consecutive snaps, and the running back gained a total of 8 yards on back-to-back plays, before capping the drive with a 3-yard burst.

Obviously, the offensive line is a little better now with all the moves the Bears made through free agency and the draft. But credit also goes to Bears coach Marc Trestman and offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer, who have implemented zone-blocking schemes, which allow Forte to pick his own holes.

With the new blocking schemes in place, my guess is Forte will eventually shed his reputation as a poor producer on the goal line.


Too much Marshall? Cutler not buying it

August, 20, 2013
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Jay CutlerJonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesJay Cutler disputes the notion that he has become overly reliant on Brandon Marshall.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Jay Cutler uttered three words in defiance of the perception outside the organization that he's become too reliant on receiver Brandon Marshall.

Asked if it would be on his mind to make it a point to throw to other receivers not named Marshall on Friday when the Bears face the Oakland Raiders in Week 3 of the preseason, Cutler didn't hesitate.

"It will not."

Pardon me?

"It will not," Cutler repeated.

Given the limited amount of plays executed by the first team through two preseason outings, Cutler accurately pointed out that it's way too early to draw conclusions about the direction the offense is headed for 2013. Cutler threw all five of his passes Marshall's direction last Thursday during the team's 33-28 win over the San Diego Chargers, with four going for completions.

(Read full post)

Road To Bourbonnais: A look at the Bears

July, 15, 2013
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tbdDavid Banks/USA TODAY SportsESPN Chicago takes a look at the Bears as they prepare for training camp in Bourbonnais.
SportsNation

How many games will the Bears win this season?

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    2%
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    15%
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    56%
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Discuss (Total votes: 5,711)

From Jay Cutler's contract year to the challenge facing the offensive line, the Bears are preparing for an interesting training camp.

Will Marc Trestman succeed in his first shot as an NFL head coach?

How will the defense look without Brian Urlacher?

ESPNChicago.com takes a look at the team in pictures.

Click here.

Road to Bourbonnais: The new offense

July, 11, 2013
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Jay CutlerAP Photo/Nam Y. HuhJay Cutler faces another new offense, and if history is a judge, he should pick it up quickly.
Editor's note: Michael C. Wright and Jeff Dickerson will preview the top storylines heading to the Bears training camp.

Balls thudded to the grass. Quarterbacks and receivers seemed out of synch sometimes. The defense feasted on interceptions.

SportsNation

What do you expect from the Bears' offense this season?

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Discuss (Total votes: 6,199)

That's what transpired for the Chicago Bears at organized team activities and minicamp. Fortunately for the team, the offseason is the time for such miscues. However, once the team hits the field for training camp in Bourbonnais, the margin for error starts to shrink significantly.

So as the team prepares for its 12th training camp trek to Olivet Nazarene University, one burning question seems to be whether the Bears can absorb the new system of Marc Trestman and offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer sufficiently enough to operate productively once the Sept. 8 opener rolls around against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Recent history indicates the Bears will be up to the challenge.

Last season, when the Bears switched from the offense of Mike Martz to the system of Mike Tice, quarterback Jay Cutler completed only 1 of his first 10 passes in the season opener before catching fire and hitting 11 of his next 12 throws. The Bears stomped the Colts 41-21 in last year's opener with Cutler completing 21 of 35 for 333 yards and two touchdowns. The Bears started the fourth quarter with a 34-14 lead.

When the Bears transitioned into Martz's system from the offense utilized by former coordinator Ron Turner in 2010, Cutler threw for 372 yards and two TDs -- including a 28-yard pass to Matt Forte with 1:32 left to play -- as the club defeated the Detroit Lions 19-14.

So the move to Trestman's precision and timing-based West Coast scheme should come with relatively few hiccups. In fact, it wouldn't be much of a stretch to expect the Bears to put forth one of their best performances offensively in a season opener in recent history in 2013, given Trestman's reputation for attacking defenses, his ability to groom quarterbacks, and the fact the team is stocked with successful veteran players at most of the key positions.

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