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Tuesday, July 6, 2010
Mailbag: Optimism for Cutler-Martz

By Michael C. Wright

The mailbag seemed a little emptier than usual this morning, but it’s not a big deal. It’s a slow time for everybody it appears.

Still, we got some pretty interesting questions ranging from whether the Bears plan on changing the playing surface at Soldier Field, to a little NFL trivia. So here we go.

Mike Martz & Jay Cutler
New Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz, left, will keep his eyes on Bears quarterback Jay Cutler.
Q: I’m excited about the upcoming season. The defense is back! I am very confident in Martz's system ... it speaks for itself. Moreover, Jay Cutler is Martz's best protégé. Do you think this will be a top-five or 10 offense this season? Do you sense a deep run in the playoffs? -- Jason, Virginia Beach, Va.

A: To answer your first question, the potential is definitely there. Although the Bears ranked 23rd in total offense last season, they ranked No. 13 in passing offense, which isn’t far out of the top 10. Also, Martz’s history indicates the Bears should expect to make a statistical jump. In San Francisco, Martz took a passing offense which ranked last in the NFL a year prior to his arrival to No. 13 (the 49ers also improved from 32nd to 23rd in total offense). During Martz’s tenure in Detroit, the Lions put up two of the most productive passing seasons in the franchise’s history (they passed 4,216 yards in 2007 and 4,298 in 2006, which ranks second and third, respectively).

As for the deep-playoff-run question, I don’t get that sense. At least, not from the standpoint of the offense being the catalyst for it. I can see the Bears going through some growing pains offensively this season as Cutler and Martz learn to work together. So far, the adjustment has gone pretty smoothly. But we all know things change once the pads start popping.

Q: To me, one small component to the Bears having a great season at home is the field they are playing on. Has there been any discussion of parting ways with the terrible surface at Soldier Field? The Bears preach speed and quickness on both sides of the ball. I can only imagine the impact [Devin] Hester and [Johnny] Knox will have on field turf in [Mike] Martz's offense. -- Darrius, Aurora, Ill.

A: There was some discussion about it back in May, but don’t count on the club going to an artificial surface for this season. There’s concern on the team’s end about a potential new surface raising the risk of lower-leg injuries for the players, which is understandable, given some of the studies out there. That’s not to say the Bears have ruled out changing the surface. It’s just not likely to happen this season. The Bears are actually doing some research to determine whether an artificial surface is the better alternative.

Q: I was wondering in OTAs if they had offensive line and defensive line one-on-ones yet? If they did, tell me how Chris Williams fared against Julius Peppers, an elite end in the NFL? -- T.J., Spokane, Wash.

A: Sorry T.J., you’ll have to wait for training camp to see or read about that. The NFL has very strict rules regarding the intensity and pace of offseason drills. In fact, the Collective Bargaining Agreement specifically prohibits one-on-ones between the offensive and defensive linemen. In the past, teams could skirt the rules a little and crank up the intensity during minicamps and OTAs. But given the tenuous situation between the league and the union, things like this are watched a lot more closely. This offseason, the league came down on the Lions, Jaguars, Raiders and Ravens for OTA violations, and docked the clubs' practice sessions. I honestly can’t remember in the last few years there ever being so many violations that were actually enforced.

Q: What teams were around when Super Bowl I was played that still have not won it? And who are they? -- Chris, Bettendorf, Iowa

A: Green Bay and Kansas City played in Super Bowl I (1967), which marked the first championship game between the then-new American Football League and the already well-established National Football League. The AFL, which consisted of the Houston Oilers, New York Jets, Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, Boston Patriots, Oakland Raiders, Kansas City Chiefs, San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos. The NFL consisted of the Dallas Cowboys, Cleveland Browns, Philadelphia Eagles, St. Louis Cardinals, Washington Redskins, Pittsburgh Steelers, Atlanta Falcons, New York Giants, Green Bay Packers, Baltimore Colts, Los Angeles Rams, San Francisco 49ers, Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, and the Minnesota Vikings. The leagues didn’t officially merge until 1970.

Of those original teams in existence during Super Bowl I, the Cardinals, Falcons, Bills, Browns, Lions, Vikings, Eagles, Chargers and Oilers(they’re now the Titans) have never won a Super Bowl. The Cardinals, Falcons, Bills, Vikings, Eagles, Chargers and Oilers/Titans have gone to the big dance, but haven’t won. The Browns and Lions have never advanced to the Super Bowl.

Q: I grew up when the Bears were known for smash-mouth football, 3 yards and a cloud of dust. Any chances we'll see the running game flourish under Martz this year? -- K Swiss, Fort Worth, Texas

A: That’s the plan, according to Martz, Love Smith and new offensive line coach Mike Tice. But with Martz leading the offense, I wouldn’t count on 3 yards and a cloud of dust becoming the club’s offensive philosophy. Martz said he wants opponents to be distracted by the offense’s passing capabilities because. That, Martzsaid, gives the Bears an air of unpredictability that causes defensive coordinators to guess when making calls, thus opening up the ground game. Smith pretty much said the same thing, adding that the cold climate of the area makes the ability to run the ball potentially the most powerful weapon in the arsenal. The Matt Forte you saw last year, in my opinion, won’t be the same one you saw in 2009 when he was hampered by injuries. Forte looks exceptionally quick and shifty so far. I think his skill set fits Martz’s offense perfectly. Throw in Chester Taylor as a complement, and the ingredients for success are there.

In addition, you’ll see the blocking schemes change somewhat with Mike Tice running the show up front. The Bears will be a lot more downhill. Having covered Tice the past four years in Jacksonville, trust me, he wouldn’t have joined the Bears staff if they didn’t plan on running the ball. I even mentioned that to Tice at minicamp, and got that trademark baritone laugh.