Commentary

In Trestman they trust?

Can Jay Cutler learn from new coach Marc Trestman?

Originally Published: August 2, 2013
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- It's rare for NFL head coaching jobs to open on franchises coming off 10-win seasons.

But the Chicago Bears are a unique franchise. Lovie Smith put together a lot of great seasons for the Bears, and with his Cover Two scheme, he made the Bears a perennial playoff contender. And to get Smith and the Bears over the top, former general manager Jerry Angelo traded for a talented quarterback, Jay Cutler.

You win in this league based on the quality of your quarterback. Even though the Bears went to an NFC title game with Cutler, Emery felt the results needed to be better. Recently, Emery said that he changed coaches partly because of the number of offensive coordinators Smith had brought in to work with his quarterback.

With Cutler in the final year of his contract, Emery hired Marc Trestman out of the Canadian Football League to sort out Cutler's future. This Trestman-Cutler saga is one of the top stories in the NFL this season.

Here are the five things I learned from Bears camp.

1. Training camp position battles: Given the retirement of Brian Urlacher, the biggest void is at middle linebacker. Emery signed former Denver Broncos D.J. Williams to be the temporary starter and second-round pick Jon Bostic to be the long-term answer. However, Williams injured his right calf on July 31 and could miss a week. Bostic has good speed and range, but it will take him time to adjust to a Cover Two system, which gives Williams the early chance to start.

Fourth-rounder Khaseem Greene shows promise as an outside linebacker, but James Anderson, who spent his first seven seasons with the Panthers, appears to have the strongside linebacking job. Anderson offers leadership to a linebacking corps trying to get younger.

There is good battle at defensive end between Corey Wootton and Shea McCLellin, their first-round pick last year. Wootten has the edge after a seven-sack season in seven starts last year, but the organization would like to get McCLellin on the field. The door opened a little Thursday when Wootton suffered a hip injury.

Right guard is up for grabs, but you have to figure first-round pick Kyle Long will eventually win that job. James Brown, an undrafted player from 2012, is currently running with the first team. Long is still learning, but his talent should eventually get him in the starting lineup.

2 The early word on Cutler: What appealed to Emery about Trestman is how well he works with quarterbacks. Trestman has worked well individually, and as a coordinator, with quarterbacks since he started with Bernie Kosar at the University of Miami in the 1980s. Trestman knows the West Coast offense well, but he'll tailor an offense to the strengths of the quarterback. From the looks of practice, it's apparent he's reviewed Cutler's tapes when he was at his best: his first couple of years with the Denver Broncos under Mike Shanahan.

The most noticeable adjustment is watching Cutler roll out and throw, a successful staple of the Shanahan offense with Cutler. He has a strong arm and becomes extra dangerous when he's on the run.

As a pure thrower, Cutler is one of the most gifted quarterbacks in the league. During his career, Cutler has averaged 22.5 points a game as a starter. The Bears averaged 23.4 in 2012 and 22.1 in 2011, but in each of those seasons, the defense and special teams contributed 10 touchdowns. Subtract those TDs from the offensive total and that takes Cutler's offense below 20 points a game. Those are not elite level numbers.

Only games will determine if Cutler will buy into the Trestman system, but so far so good.

3. Brandon Marshall and Martellus Bennett are showing maturity: Marshall had his off-the-field issues in Denver and Miami. Bennett showed a lot of immaturity in his years in Dallas. Both have grown.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Marshall
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhCould Brandon Marshall see fewer touches in the new offense?

Bennett played well for the New York Giants on a one-year contract, and Emery wasted no time bringing him over to be the Bears starting tight end. At 6-6, 265, Bennett is a big, fast target, and the coaches and Emery are pleased how well he has mixed in with his teammates.

This summer, Marshall might have had his best offseason in terms of preparation, cutting his body fat to 6.5 percent while adding five pounds of muscle. He says he's at 235 pounds. Marshall's work ethic on the field has improved, but he has gotten more involved with community charity work, too. It's certainly a help playing with Cutler, who was his quarterback in Denver and in Chicago. With four 100-plus catch seasons in the past six years, Marshall is one of the best outside threats in the league. It will be interesting to see if Trestman allows Cutler to target Marshall as much as he did in the past. Trestman is a big believer of spreading the ball around, and the Bears have a good three-receiver set (Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Earl Bennett). Marshall typically goes into games expecting to be targeted six to 10 times, but that number might drop slightly.

4. On paper, the offensive line looks better: The biggest emphasis during the offseason was to make sure Cutler was better protected along the offensive line. Emery spent more than $7 million a year to have Jermon Bushrod as the left tackle protecting Cutler's blindside and invested a first-round pick in Long to eventually be the right guard.

The bargain, though, was guard Matt Slauson, who came over from the New York Jets. Slauson doesn't have the athletic skills of the other linemen, but he's no-nonsense pro who brings a little toughness to the line. Getting Bushrod allowed the massive J'Marcus Webb to move to right tackle. Emery brought Eben Britton from Jacksonville to be a top backup, and the team likes the promise of third-round choice Jordan Mills as a tackle. When it comes to problem solving, Emery doesn't mess around. He brought in two free agents and two draft choices to fix the line and did the same at linebacker.

5. The Cover Two lives … for now: Instead of scrapping the Cover Two defense of Lovie Smith, new defensive coordinator Mel Tucker kept the playbook and the calls intact and adjusted himself to the system.

The thinking is logical. Despite the departure of Urlacher, the Bears core group of defenders are Cover Two fits, though they are getting old. Tucker is giving Lance Briggs, Julius Peppers, Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings one last chance to shine. Brings, Tillman and Jennings are in the last year of their contracts, so things might change next year ... or they might not. Emery is still trying to draft and sign the lighter, quicker defenders who fit in the Cover Two.

Overall, the Bears have 11 starters becoming free agents after the season. They spent all the cap money they could on this year's team, but are loaded with room next year. Emery will save those decisions until next year and hope to enjoy the ride this season.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer

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