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Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Martz's offense enjoyable even in OTAs

By Jon Greenberg
ESPNChicago.com

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- While you were busy reliving Landon Donovan's miracle goal or trying to tear yourself away from John Isner's day-long tennis marathon at Wimbledon, the real excitement was happening at Halas Hall.

That's right: Football in shorts!

Mike Martz
Mike Martz talks to Matt Forte, left, and Frank Omiyale during a workout on Wednesday at Halas Hall.

Trust me, you might think Donovan's winning score against Algeria was the most exciting thing you saw Wednesday, but only because you weren't lucky enough to see Jay Cutler hit Devin Aromashodu on a skinny post. You also missed a punting clinic by Brad Maynard.

The Bears' last practice before training camp was so sizzling it made a Tom Thibodeau introductory news conference seem like any old Lovie Smith news conference.

("Olin is one of our guys," is how Smith started one Zen koan-like answer.)

The Bears completed their last pass of organized team activities, a clever euphemism for spring practice you better be at unless you're Brian Urlacher and you have to film an NBC commercial and a spot on "Entourage."

Like "Entourage," a once-funny show gone downhill in the past couple years, the Bears are hoping their 2010 season is trending upward. While the HBO show added crossover adult film star Sasha Grey to its cast, the Bears added a provocateur of their own in Mike Martz, the offensive mastermind.

I haven't had a chance to meet Martz yet, and I guess I'll have to wait until training camp begins on July 30, because he didn't talk to reporters, which seems to be a trend of its own this spring. If only Gen. McChrystal had his same disdain for the media.

But it was Martz's offense that I came to see, and despite the low-impact nature of OTAs, I got to witness Cutler running four-receiver sets, handing off to Matt Forte up the middle, moving quickly up field -- the typical Martz offensive staples.

When the Bears brought in Cutler, an oft-erratic talent with the capability to be Kurt Warner and the culpability to be more than Rex Grossman, it was obvious the team's run-off-the-bus philosophy would have to change. And with Martz on board, the Bears' offense could actually be enjoyable to watch in long stretches.

"I love it," Cutler said of Martz's system, which encourages the quarterback to throw to spots where receivers should be. "There's a lot to like about it. The ball's in the air. We're doing some great stuff in the run game. It's personnel-based so we're trying to get guys open, trying to find spaces for them, trying to find matchups."

I watched Cutler most of practice, even when we had an obstructed view of the proceedings while standing in an assigned section, and he looked pretty in sync with his receivers, missing a few throws here and there, but mostly hitting receivers in space. Cutler knew what he was getting into with Ron Turner's system, but he's been cramming in Martz's ever-growing playbook for months, and it's finally making sense.

"You still having to picture the play in your head when you're walking to the line, but I think as far as me, and I think Caleb [Hanie] would say the same thing, I think we're seeing things really well," Cutler said. "We're going out there and instead of thinking where guys are going to be, we're seeing the defense and reacting. We've got to get everyone on the same page."

And there will be time for that. Cutler said Martz did a great job preparing the offense in the film room and he told ESPN 1000's "Waddle and Silvy Show" that his OC has racheted down the pressure and turned professorial as OTAs went along.

While Cutler's sideline and news conference demeanor has been analyzed and criticized, he's known to have a high-level football mind. Basically, he sounds a lot like Martz, and Cutler said the working relationship has been good so far. Then again, the Bears are still undefeated, and Cutler isn't serving up five-interception games with a side of sulk.

"He makes you want to come to work every day," Cutler said. "He's so creative, he's doing fun stuff. He's finding ways to win. That's all you can ask for as a player, to have a coach that loves football and is going to do everything possible to be successful. I think that's what the great coaches are able to do and what Mike's done in the past."

Bears news trumps that of pretty much every other team in the city. You might think the Blackhawks' trade of Dustin Byfuglien was big, but imagine the uproar if Cutler stubbed a toe jogging to the huddle?

This Bears season promises to be full of surprises as Smith tries to hang on to his job after three straight seasons of missing the playoffs. The Bears have two new coordinators, a defensive superstar in Julius Peppers and a quarterback who should be able to prosper after a rocky start.

In a little more than two months, the Bears will be must-see TV once again. Until then, anyone have $7,500 for Cubs' fantasy camp?

Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.