Intriguing, ultimately disappointing

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- On Monday morning, Martellus Bennett did something that few Chicago Bears, to the best of my knowledge, have ever done before.

The colorful tight end thanked reporters instead of avoiding them during another regular-season "clean out your locker day" at Halas Hall, which is also known as "No Comment Day."

After chatting with reporters for about seven minutes, he stopped on his way out of the door to give an impromptu speech to the rabble.

"I appreciate you guys helping to build my brand," he said, before imploring reporters to ask their bosses to pay him to do some TV work.

"I'm in the entertainment business, not the football business," he reminded us. Later he told the team website writer that he's a "walking content machine."

As for the football business he dabbles in as part of his brand outreach, the first-year Bear said he was satisfied with his season, which ended with one catch for 15 yards in a painful 33-28 loss to the Green Bay Packers in the NFC North title game.

"Individually, I never really set goals," he said. "I just want to have a better season. I just want to be the best possible Martellus. I think I did a great job at that."

That's some good Martellusing, Martellus.

In truth, Bennett, who had 65 catches for 759 yards and five touchdowns in a very impressive season, truly seems to have the ideal split between work and life. He works hard and he compartmentalizes his other more artistic pursuits into his free time.

Now that the season is over, he said, he's going to decide which of his myriad projects to release to the world -- literature, art or music -- while shopping for a local gallery to display his art. He's also going to become a father in March. It's a girl, by the way.

"I'm going to do a new album," he said. "The guys on the team want me to do a new album, so I'll be doing a new album this summer."

Is there an old album out there? Ah, who cares? Bennett, as usual, was nothing more than a welcome respite from an uneventful 45 minutes spent inside the Bears' locker room talking to players about a season that wasn't a disaster but also not a success.

It's tough to find the words to accurately describe this season. Disappointing is one.

The Bears were a very 8-8 kind of team, promising one game and horrendous the next. They lost a bunch of close games and they lost a bunch of players to injuries. After a 3-0 start, they never won or lost more than two in a row. While the offense was very good, it was rarely dominating, even during the halcyon days of the Josh McCown era.

How do you judge this season? Depends on how you look at it.

It's a failure because the Bears didn't make the playoffs despite a golden opportunity to do so. It's a mild success because the offense showed immediate gains from new coach Marc Trestman and his staff. The defense needs renovations, but the offensive foundation is strong. That was why they hired Trestman in the first place, and it looks like it was a smart hire. Was it a one-dimensional hire, like Bizarro Lovie? That's to be determined.

The biggest questions lingering over the team are: Will Jay Cutler be back and will defensive coordinator Mel Tucker return to a moribund defense?

As he's wont to do nowadays, Brandon Marshall paused for a few seconds when he was asked the Cutler Question. You know, "Does he want him back?" We're just fishing for quotes at this point, because Marshall is Cutler's foremost defender. It helps that his buddy Jay throws him the ball every other play.

"It's been a long time since we had a quarterback like Jay Cutler," Marshall said, noting he was speaking as a Chicagoan, not a Bear. "So all your stories this offseason, I think that should be the headline, or that should be the story written this year: 'Oh, how we love Jay Cutler,' because it's been so long."

"Oh, how we love Jay Cutler," is a little wordy, but I get his point. Get me rewrite on those "Dat Cutler is a bum!" stories, Chicago editors.

Franchise cornerback Charles Tillman, a free agent whose return to the team is questionable, also offered his support to the embattled first-year defensive coordinator, Tucker.

"I thought Mel did an exceptional job," he said. Well, I guess he knows better than us. Too bad Lance Briggs didn't show up to talk. The "captain" of the "defense" was very critical of the defense while he was injured.

There isn't much I can say to defend Tucker. The results just weren't there. The defense was marred by injuries, but there was a clear disconnect that was evident Sunday, from the way the Bears' defenders failed to pick up an Aaron Rodgers fumble to the miscommunication between the defensive backs that led to the Packers' final score.

Last season we knew Lovie Smith was fired before we met with players one last time. We should know Tucker's status when Trestman and Emery meet with the media Thursday.

Given that Emery and Trestman are careful, pragmatic types, I'd guess it's more likely the personnel get a makeover, rather than the coach. But maybe they see problems that need to be addressed now.

One thing is for sure, this last loss deserves plenty of internal scrutiny.

Marshall was photographed lying face-first on the ground after the game's end Sunday. He has never been to the playoffs. He said it changed his offseason priorities.

"That feeling of that cold ground when they picked the ball off, I felt that, and I'll continue to feel it, so I'm going to start up Monday after Super Bowl," he said. "That's what I've done the first few years that I've been in the league, and I thought I was going to change that, rest my body and my mind, but this just added fuel to my fire."

While Trestman has room to improve, particularly in game management, his arrival brought with it needed change.

The Bears finished second in the league with 445 points (which counts six defensive scores and one punt return). They had 32 passing touchdowns and 13 rushing ones. They were eighth in total yards and fifth in passing yards.

Last season, the Bears were 16th in scoring with 375 points (nine defensive touchdowns). They had 21 passing touchdowns and 11 rushing touchdowns. They were 28th in total yards and 29th in passing yards.

"Next year, if we pick up where we left off, we'll be OK," Marshall said. "I think last year we were in the bottom of the barrel, as far as statistically on offense, and this year we're in the top 10. I think we finished eighth in yardage, and that's big. That's huge. That says a lot about Phil Emery. That says a lot about Coach Trestman. That says a lot about Jay Cutler. That's the trickle-down effect. We just benefit from it. We're just getting the fruits."

As for change, it's inevitable.

Tillman, who missed the last seven games with a torn triceps, addressed his future now that he's heading into free agency after a career solely with the Bears. The Bears without their Peanut would be a salty situation.

"I think I'm OK with it," he said. "I think it's the first time in my life that I've had to make decisions like this. But I don't know. I'm just kind of waiting to see how it plays out. I'm not stressing. I'm not worried about it. Whatever happens is going to happen. Whatever happens is going to be for the good."

That remains to be seen. With Trestman on board, the Bears made the major improvements on offense we've all been clamoring for, but the Bears still missed the playoffs for the sixth time in seven years.

There won't be major renovations at the rehabbed Halas Hall this offseason, but maybe with some more tinkering the Bears won't be packing up so early with nothing to say.