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BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Mike Martz should have put a basket on the front of his training camp bicycle. It sure would have been easier to throw those bouquets to his players.
Martz, the offensive coordinator from Pleasantville, has put on quite a show during camp ... well, at least in the eight or nine minutes a week he has talked to the media in his circumscribed interviews (Wednesday before lunch). He has spread the love far and wide.
Soft-spoken with only the occasional stiff-arm to a question -- he doesn't deal in hypotheticals -- Martz is not the serpent-tongued scourge he was billed as, at least not in public.
|Mike Martz has nothing but praise for Jay Cutler -- and pretty much every other player he works with.|
Martz's cockeyed, optimistic view of his quarterback, his offensive line, his receivers, his running backs, the city of Bourbonnais, Chicago's parking meters, Rod Blagojevich's lawyers, etc., has been well documented this preseason, and I'd submit that his happy-go-lucky public persona is a good thing. He barks enough on the field, where it matters.
And maybe he's being honest, and maybe the Bears are going to be an offensive juggernaut, the Greatest Show on Torn-Up Grass. Or, more likely, he's just snowing us hapless reporters with pleasantries so he can deal with fewer questions and work on what's really important, getting his offense ready to be an elite-level unit.
After all, it is the preseason; it's time to tinker and teach. And there's no need to harp on mistakes made by a group of professionals trying to digest a complicated new system.
And while the public's hunger for Bears news never takes a vacation -- witness the reportorial scrum around newly signed camp arm Matt Gutierrez, which led center Olin Kreutz to howl with laughter as reporters surrounded him -- there's no need for Martz to open his players up to early scrutiny.
So if you're mad that the team's offensive guru is near-delusional with praise, don't be. He'll be plenty realistic come September, when his pupils leave college for the real world.
(Then again, unlike Ron Turner, the Bears aren't letting Martz speak after games, so we'll never get his unfiltered, raw analysis.)
Training camp is its own insular reality, where the positive is stressed and the negative is left on the field. Jay Cutler's summer camp has been anything but a vacation as he drills endlessly in practice under Martz's watchful eye and tongue. And Cutler has worked hard.
With that in mind, Martz said he doesn't need to see Cutler do anything in the preseason to be ready for the Sept. 12 opener against Detroit.
"I'm fine with Jay," he said. "I don't need to see anything from Jay."
So what is his status report on Cutler, going into the second preseason game this Saturday at home against Oakland?
"He gets better and better," Martz said. "He's a pretty remarkable guy, both as a man and as a player."
Read that sentence again: He's a remarkable guy, as a man.
That's poetry, folks.
Forget Cutler's bonafides as a guy, man or mammal; Bears fans probably would just be happy with him throwing fewer than 26 interceptions.
Oh, and if you're worried about the offensive line, don't be.
"The most fun is watching the offensive line develop; they've really come a long ways," Martz said. "That group is really solid. Frank [Omiyale has] made remarkable improvement. I just like the way things are coming together there."
Considering the line is the biggest worry on offense, that's important to remember. In the first preseason game, the O-line was generally thought to have handled itself well in pass protection (only three of the six sacks were considered the line's fault, and none came with the first team) against the Chargers, who blitzed like the AFC West was on the line. But no rushing first downs and 48 yards on the ground didn't allay everyone's pessimism.
Teams will blitz in the regular season, too, of course, but Martz said it was interfering with the progression of his play calling, which was why the Bears pulled Cutler after the first drive.
"When they're pressuring you as much as they were, which is fine, a lot of teams do that, we probably pulled him a little earlier than maybe I would normally," Martz said.
Backup quarterback Caleb Hanie proved the wisdom of that move when he went down later in the game with a sprained shoulder.
"We just wanted to get his feet wet," Martz said of Cutler's 2-for-2 performance in San Diego. "Everyone has a different approach to the preseason games. Our approach was to get him in there and get him some nice throws down the field, get him loosened up with the receivers a little bit."
"Jay got some good work last week," Smith said Wednesday. "We plan on getting him more work this week at home, so it will all work out. Before long, we'll forget how many plays he played that first preseason game."
I guess that line was a well-crafted zinger to the media obsessed with Cutler.
"It doesn't matter," said Cutler, the preseason leader in nonchalance, on his first game. "We have four preseason games. We've had a great camp."
The only reason people were concerned, if at all, about Cutler's opening game numbers, was that he's adjusting to a new offense and it would be nice to see him practice against a new group of players.
So while Martz said he isn't putting any emphasis on Cutler's preseason games since he's come so far in practice, at least one Bear wants to put in some work against Oakland and Arizona.
"I agree with what coach Martz said, but at the same time, I feel we've got to go out there and play as a unit against different opponents, because we've been going against the same defense," receiver Devin Hester said, echoing comments he made after Saturday's loss at San Diego. "You know what plays you'll be able to get open on against their coverage. Now it's an opportunity to play other teams and exploit other coverages."
One thing to keep in mind if you watch the next two or three preseason games, the Bears are going to stick to vanilla plays. Don't expect to see the whole Martz offense on display. If you were looking to scout the Air Coryell-style offense Martz runs, you should have been at training camp.
"I think we'll keep it pretty basic these next couple games, too," Cutler said. "We're getting a lot of work done out here, we've thrown a lot of plays at the guys, thrown a lot of stuff at the offensive line. We're just getting everything ready for that first game."
Cutler allowed that they will "pour a little bit more in there and see how guys react to it." That's music to Hester's ears.
"I feel like we're comfortable, but I do feel like we need to brush up on a couple things," Hester said. "If you feel like you're comfortable and you're ready, you're psyching yourself out. There's always room for improvement; that's the mentality you have to go into the season with, never get too comfortable. No matter what you say, you can always get better."
Get better? I'll have to ask Martz if that's possible. Can it wait until next Wednesday?Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. You can follow him at twitter.com/espnchijon.