- Michael C. Wright, ESPN Staff Writer
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BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- No real tangible point of reference exists for 2012 opponents of the Chicago Bears, clawing for ways to grab a leg up in preparing for the team’s revamped offense.
Film study might consist of flipping through archival footage of the 2008 Denver Broncos, the 2010 Seattle Seahawks or perhaps the 2007-09 Jacksonville Jaguars; maybe even as far back as the 2001-05 Minnesota Vikings. But, really, there’s nowhere to find it all in one place, which is precisely why the Bears aren’t telegraphing the regular season in exhibition games.
“We don’t want them to lock in on us, you know,” Bears offensive coordinator Mike Tice said. “That’s why we were pretty vanilla last week, and we’re gonna be pretty vanilla this week (against the Washington Redskins on Saturday). When you’re vanilla like we’re gonna be in the preseason, you’ve got to execute better because we’re not gonna go out there and expose what Indianapolis is trying to figure out right now with who and what we are.”
Even the Bears aren’t fully certain right now of what they are, offensively. They’re in the process trying to nail it down. But what they’re working with is a hodgepodge of offensive philosophies ranging from West Coast principles to -- gasp -- the “three-digit” system learned by Tice as a player for former Redskins coach Joe Gibbs, which was also a part of the foundation of the old scheme employed by ex-Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz. It’s a mixed bag of tricks devised by nearly the entire coaching staff with input from the players.
Backup quarterback Jason Campbell chuckled when thinking of the best way to describe the team’s offense. Having played for nine offensive coordinators -- including three in five years with the Redskins -- in 12 years of football dating back to his days at Auburn, Campbell pretty much has played in every system imaginable.
“You’re right, this one pretty much is a lot of things put together. I think once the season starts, it’ll be based on what we see from defenses week to week,” Campbell said. “So we’ll just kind of put things in, in order to attack it that way. Right now we’re just still doing our basic things where everyone is trying to get a grasp of the offense, and a grasp of the passing game. The run game is basically the same for the guys who have been here. The passing game is what’s new. There are some similarities to what I’ve done in the past. Half of it is new to me in the passing game. But the other half are things I’ve done before. Like the only things that may be different are the plays may be worded differently than some of the things I’ve done.
“Sometimes, I hear a play. But then I get to the line and it sounds like a play I ran before, but a totally different name. So I have to quickly try to eject those names out of my head that I had learned from a year ago or two years ago that kind of stuck with me and re-learn it because it may mean something totally different here.”
What it means for opposing defensive coordinators is copious prep time, which early on in the season might prove fruitless, considering the Bears’ offense is likely to evolve as the year progresses. That’s part of the reason quarterback Jay Cutler won’t put too much stock in how the offense performs Saturday against the Redskins whether it’s positive or negative.
“We still have a lot of time,” Cutler said. “What we unroll against the Washington Redskins isn't the final product. We've still got the rest of the preseason and then we'll have game week. We've got to hammer down what we want to do offensively. We want to get in there in the huddle and execute plays (against the Redskins), but it's not going to be the end of the world if we're not clicking on all cylinders Saturday.”
Second-year right tackle Gabe Carimi isn’t certain of what the Bears will ultimately be on offense, but he pointed out the things the unit won’t be doing. In Martz’s system, the Bears often combined five-man protections up front with seven-step drops, resulting in punishment for the quarterbacks, who in 2011 suffered 49 sacks for 335 lost yards.
During a 30-13 Week 2 massacre at New Orleans last season, the Bears gave up six sacks, which really wasn’t indicative of the offensive line’s pedigree because on some occasions, the club ran empty sets (no running backs) and operated almost exclusively with five-man protections, which prompted one coach to ask rhetorically, “Who does that?”
Obviously, under Martz, the Bears did. Interestingly, in the two years with Martz as offensive coordinator, the Bears surrendered 105 sacks. In the three seasons before Martz’s arrival, the club allowed a combined 107 sacks.
“There’s just some stuff we’re not gonna do, like five-man protections and seven-step drops,” Carimi said. “We’re not gonna be doing that anymore. If we’re doing five-man protection, it’s gonna be five-step drops.”
But the question remains: What exactly is the offense of the Chicago Bears? Tice did his best to explain.
“We’re trying to be a multi-personnel, multi-formation offense where if we decide we’re not gonna run and we want to move the ball down the field in the short passing game, we can do it. If we decide we want to run it, we can run it. If we want to just run it against certain box counts, we can do that,” Tice said. “If we want to throw it just against certain coverages, we can do that because we can manage the line of scrimmage. So we’re trying to make sure that we have, as (quarterbacks coach) Jeremy Bates says, ‘All the clubs in the bag.’ So when we need a certain club, we have it in the bag. We can just pull it out.”
It’s anyone’s guess whether the Bears will hit a hole-in-one, but the club has definitely created the ultimate guessing game for defensive coordinators around the league.
“You just don’t know what we’re gonna do,” Campbell said, laughing. “We’ll come out in all kinds of different things in different ways because we’re kind of working to the strength of our talent.”
Tice, meanwhile, gave the ultimate “duh” response when asked whether the increased difficulty in preparing for the team’s offense gave him a sense of excitement.
“Well yeah,” he said. “That’s the whole idea, make them work, you know?”