Published July 13, 2011
CHICAGO – The way Mike Martz sees it, the Chicago Bears could play in the Hall of Fame game on a day's notice if necessary.
Of course, that's not realistic and he wouldn't want to try. But if they absolutely, positively had to?
"If we report to camp and they say, 'Tomorrow, you're playing the game,' that'll be plenty," Martz, Chicago's offensive coordinator, said Wednesday.
The Bears are scheduled to open training camp at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., late next week and play St. Louis in the Hall of Fame game on Aug. 7. All that is in doubt at the moment because of the lockout.
Chicago star Devin Hester said he thinks players would need a week-and-a-half of practice to prepare for the Rams game. Martz wouldn't say exactly how much time they would need, but he did say they could be ready rather quickly.
"You don't do game plans for those games, anyway," he said. "It's not like a regular-season game at all. There's not a whole lot of game preparation. You look at personnel, things of that nature, and clean things up execution-wise. The preparation for preseason games, particularly the first one, is not real hard."
Coming off a wild season in which they made a big turnaround and advanced to the NFC championship game, the Bears might be in a better spot than most teams to withstand an offseason in which there were no organized team activities and no real opportunities to work with the coaches.
Most of their core players are under contract.
They've been running the same cover-2 defense for years under Lovie Smith and are entering their second season in Martz's offense, so they won't have to adapt to new systems. That could work in their favor.
There are, however, some question marks on the offensive line and at wide receiver, although Martz insists he's happy with what he has.
He's assuming veteran center Olin Kreutz will re-sign once he's allowed, that first-round pick Gabe Carimi will adjust to the line quickly and a unit that was a mess early last season because of injuries and poor play will build on the progress it made over the second half, giving Jay Cutler the protection he needs and Matt Forte the holes he wants.
The pounding Cutler took last season was well-documented. The Bears gave up a league-leading 56 sacks, but got better using the same five players over the final nine weeks.
They ran the ball more often, too, giving up 2.8 sacks per game after allowing 4.4 over the first seven weeks. Forte wound up with 1,069 yards rushing, and Martz said the model they followed in the second half is one they will continue to use.
"The biggest issue was the offensive line," he said. "When (Roberto) Garza came back (at right guard), it allowed us to run the ball. That whole side got established. The right tackle got his feet on the ground. We've got a great back. We want to mix this in there pretty good. We'll be kind of judicious in the passing game. It's a little bit different feel. Matt's ability as a runner is substantial. The offensive line, the biggest improvement was made in the run blocking which allowed us to do all those things."
He also expects bigger things from Hester as a receiver and doesn't necessarily think the Bears need more height there.
"Size doesn't make any difference," Martz said. "It makes absolutely no difference. With Matt as a runner and our ability to run the ball, we get a lot of one-on-one coverage, and you have to have receivers that can beat corners one on one. And generally, the guys that can change direction and run fast — those are the kinds of guys that you're looking for. If he's a big guy that can do all that, that's a rare find. A lot of times, those guys are more 5-10 guys."
He said the Bears need to get Hester the ball more after he caught 40 passes for 475 yards, and he thinks they can do that without diminishing his contributions on special teams. Hester finally returned to his record-setting ways on returns after several down seasons, running back three punts for touchdowns and averaging 35.6 yards on 12 kickoff returns.
The Bears don't want to lose that threat. The NFL is moving kickoffs from the 30 to the 35-yard line, raising the likelihood of more touchbacks, but few can do what Hester can with the ball in his hands.
"We don't want to do anything to diminish that," Martz said.