— After Mike Martz threw some fat pitches for the 49ers and Lions, some thought maybe his fastball wasn’t what it used to be. In fact, the fabled architect of The Greatest Show On Turf actually sat out the 2009 season, unable to find employment.
But he has resurfaced in Chicago, and there is good reason to believe he will bring the heat again.
Martz didn’t get stupid or satisfied since he left St. Louis. He remains a brilliant game planner and play caller, eccentricities be damned. And he still demands perfection of his players like a drill sergeant whose shoes are too tight.
There is a considerable difference between Martz on the Bears and Martz on the 49ers or Lions, however. It’s the talent, silly.
Martz isn’t driving a jalopy anymore. It might not be the Ferrari he cruised in with the Rams, but Martz is capable of making these Bears hum and roar.
Let’s start with the quarterback. Martz told me Jay Cutler “has more talent than anybody I’ve ever seen. When he came out I gave him the best grade of any quarterback I’ve ever graded.”
Much has been made of the Martz-Cutler union, and understandably so. These are two dynamic talents and two forceful personalities. Between them, there is incredible potential for excellence, but also considerable potential for volatility. One way or another, fireworks are certain.
At this stage of their honeymoon, they are throwing only complements at the other, not vases. “He’s been remarkable,” Martz said in minicamp. “He’s such a quick study in everything. There are very few people I’ve been around in my life that are that intelligent. He’s extremely intelligent. He has great respect for players, the system and the game. The thing I like about him is he has great respect for the game. He does everything he can to learn it, he’s passionate about it. He’s in here early. He stays afterwards. Like I said, he’s been perfect so far.”
And Cutler, on a radio interview with WSCR-AM, countered with this: “I think he can make me a whole better quarterback. I’m going into my fifth year; I’ve seen a lot of things, I’ve made mistakes, I’ve done some good things and I think he’s going to bring the best out of me as a quarterback on and off the field.”
You might think that bringing out the best in Cutler would mean reducing his league-leading 26 interceptions from one year ago. But Martz isn’t the type of play caller who worries about interceptions. So it wouldn’t be surprising if Cutler threw more touchdowns than anyone, but also threw more interceptions.
He has better targets to throw to than many people realize. Devin Hester and Johnny Knox have performed as if they were born to be Martz receivers. Martz never has had a tight end receiving weapon like Greg Olsen, and he’s vowing to make the most of him as long as Olsen can hold up his end of the bargain as a blocker. And with Matt Forte’s all-around game, he could develop into a poor man’s Marshall Faulk playing for Martz.
All that Martz is missing with the Bears are a couple of Orlando Paces. His offense is very demanding of blockers, and the Bears offensive line is suspect. If the Bears can’t pass protect, all bets are off.
There is hope at Halas Hall because former first round pick Chris Williams finished the season strong after being moved to left tackle, and Frank Omiyale is being sold as a better fit at right tackle than he was at left guard. Plus, well-respected Mike Tice has been added to the mix as the line coach.
Even if the Bears can keep the Jared Allens of the world off Cutler’s back, the offensive players still will be challenged to integrate one of the most complex playbooks in the league quickly. The Bears offense is being asked to learn on the job but not make mistakes on the job.
That’s a tall order, but if anyone can make it happen, it’s Mike Martz.
Q: Dan, What do you think about this crazy idea. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have no true #1 receiver with Antonio Bryant's exit. And VERY little proven talent at receiver. How about giving T.O. one last chance? He didn't play well in Buffalo but like the Bucs they fired their Offensive Coordinator at the start of the season, and were very weak at the QB position. Do you really think he would be a bad influence on a young QB like Josh Freeman? Isn't T.O. worth one more chance? Thanks
— Jeffry Lee, St. Petersburg, Fla.
A: I’ve heard crazier ideas. But signing T.O. is not something I would do if I were sitting in the chair of Bucs general manager Mark Dominik.
This is why. First, as you mentioned, I would be concerned about the chemistry between Owens and Josh Freeman. Nothing is more important to the Bucs than nurturing Freeman and building his confidence. I’m not so sure T.O. would further those causes.
Secondly, the Bucs are a young, team that is in a rebuilding mode. They need to develop young receivers Arrelious Benn and Mike Williams. Bringing in a veteran ball hog like T.O. could stunt that development. Finally, T.O. is not what he used to be.
Q: Is Kenny Phillips going to be ready to play this season? I know he’s coming off surgery, but we could really use him in the secondary.
— Gus Brown, Albany, N.Y.
A: I don’t think you can count on Phillips being back and as effective as he once was after microfracture surgery. The Giants have verbally expressed confidence in Phillips’ comeback, but their actions (signing Antrel Rolle and Deon Grant) have expressed less confidence.
We need to see how Phillips’ knee responds in August before anyone has a decent feel.
Q: What do you see Justin Forsett doing this year for the Seahawks? He looked really good at times last season and I have high hopes that Pete Carroll will improve the running game.
— Joe D, Everett, Wash.
A: I anticipate Forsett being the Seahawks’ starting back, and a fairly productive player. Forsett is a gifted runner who knows how to take advantage of a crease in the defense. He finished last season strong and appears to have the confidence of new coach Pete Carroll.
The biggest question about Forsett is this: can he take a pounding? At 5-8, 194, he’s certainly smaller than ideal for an NFL back. As a result of his size and the Seahawks’ depth at the position, Forsett probably won’t get as many carries as some starting backs. He also will be pushed for playing time by Julius Jones and Leon Washington.
Q: Are you "too short" for football in the pros if you are a little bellow 5-foot-5, just curious. and what if you are good at running and breaking tackles. Do they care how tall you are?
— Joshua, Natchitoches, La.
A: It depends on the offensive scheme, but generally speaking, most teams don’t get too hung up on how tall (or short) a running back is. Some front office men will tell you a shorter back has advantages because it is difficult for defenders to find him behind blockers, and shorter backs often run with a low center of gravity. Throughout history, there have been some great short backs, including Barry Sanders (5-8) and Emmitt Smith (5-9).
And currently, some short backs are thriving, including Darren Sproles (5-6) and Ray Rice (5-8). But below 5-5? That’s awfully small. The problem with a running back that small is he probably isn’t going to be thick enough or powerful enough — though there is a difference between being short and being small.