As we await the Chicago Bears debut tonight in preseason action, I can’t wait to see if their little offseason experiment worked.
When it comes to offense, Mike Martz is a kamikaze. His “leap of faith” system is as likely to blow up on a game-by-game basis as it is to succeed. While respected at first for his work in St. Louis, in recent years, NFL coaches seem to feel that bringing him in to run an offense is the equivalent of waving a white flag, a last-ditch effort to get their teams on the scoreboard.
Still, Martz’s system shows results. He built the “Greatest Show on Turf,” revived the Detroit Lions passing attack with Jon Kitna, and made J.T. O’ Sullivan fantasy relevant for a time in San Francisco. But one thing he hasn’t had to work with since his days with Kurt Warner and Marc Bulger in St. Louis is a true franchise quarterback.
Why, hello there Jay Cutler. Whatever you think of the shruggy Vanderbilt product, Cutler has an arm, and he’s shown the characteristics of a franchise quarterback in Denver. Granted, he no longer has a true No. 1 receiver like Brandon Marshall to throw to now that he’s in Chicago, but don’t count out Devin Hester and Johnny Knox just yet.
Quick receivers who can get to their spots on time are all an offense like Martz’s really needs, and if you believe in the third year breakout for wide receivers and Hester’s quotes, Hester’s ready to make it big. But you don’t have to take his word for it.
Cutler has bought into Martz’s quarterback-friendly system. So even though we can’t expect Cutler’s interceptions to be drastically reduced when he starts firing passes before receivers are even in place, he should do some serious damage in the passing game–the good kind of damage.
Cutler threw a career high 26 interceptions last season pre-Martz, but he also threw a career high 27 touchdowns. His offensive line wasn’t doing him any favors last year either.
With Martz and a new offensive line coach in Mike Tice, Cutler may excel in the W column and fantasy point columns again just like he did in Denver.
So when it comes to drafting Cutler, I’m all for it. He’s currently going early in the seventh round as the No. 9 overall quarterback, according to Fantasy Football Calculator. While I’m okay with him there as a late starting QB1, I think I’d really love him as a QB2 behind an elite quarterback like Aaron Rodgers, Matt Schaub, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, or Tony Romo.
If he has a huge season, you can start him and trade away your elite guy or just trade Cutler for a high-performing running back to make your championship run.
And without having to rely on him completely as your QB1, you can play the ups and downs that are likely to strike the Bears this season. I expect there will be some growing pains in learning Martz’s system and putting it into action each week.
As for the wide receivers, there’s plenty of speculation out there about how to value them. Devin Hester, Johnny Knox, Devin Aromashodu, and Earl Bennett could all see time on the field.
This offseason, the early favorite has been Devin Aromashodu, the tallest Bears wide receiver who came on strong at the end of 2009 and scored four touchdowns. But Aromashodu’s sleeper hype has him overvalued now. He’s being drafted before both Hester and Knox, and that just doesn’t make sense.
I’d much rather draft Hester, the forgotten man in this offense who was holding down the No. 1 role until late in 2009, or Knox, the rookie who picked up the offense and caught Cutler’s eye last season.
Hester worked in the offseason with Isaac Bruce to learn what he could from the Martz-made veteran wide receiver, and I think he’ll be ready to play come Week 1 like a top wideout, rather than just as a converted special teamer.
Now don’t get me wrong, Aromashodu shouldn’t be overlooked. He could play a big part in the red zone, but I just don’t think he’s worth a pick in the eighth round when you can get Hester in the tenth.
Martz isn’t really known for increasing the role of the running back in his offenses, but he has two skilled pass catchers in Matt Forte and Chester Taylor. Forte seems more like his old self now that he’s recovered from 2009′s injuries. Maybe we all just expected too much of him when we launched him into the first round rankings last season.
With injuries, a new quarterback, and a questionable offensive line, it was hard to live up to the hype around his impressive rookie season. This season, he could turn things around, especially if Martz makes him a big part of the offense. Even though Martz isn’t known for making running backs better, he certainly doesn’t neglect them.
Chester Taylor will take some of the work out of Forte’s hands, but that could be a good thing. Forte wore down late in his rookie season when he was carrying the full load, and as long as he gets to take the carries near the goal line, sharing might be caring for Forte. I can learn to love a timeshare that allows Forte to go full speed all season and keeps him free of injuries.
So think about Forte in the fourth round before you start looking at running backs who have the lesser half of a timeshare situation.
The one position we can’t predict with Martz is tight end. Greg Olsen is a star at the position, but Martz has traditionally left tight ends to block at the line while the receivers steal the show. Time will tell if Olsen can sway him. I am not taking that chance in my drafts right now.
So in short, don’t overlook your Bears this season. I expect to see some significant improvements in the passing game, and as late as Jay Cutler and Hester are being drafted, they’re definitely worth a look.