Expectations by making bold moves like trading for Brandon Marshall and having a run-oriented offensive coordinator and play-caller in Mike Tice—who let's be honest did not game-plan for running the ball sufficiently or effectively—were not met. Having an offensive line with more holes than that old shirt you have hung up in the garage for yard-work was ultimately the downfall for playoff hopes in Chicago as well as Lovie Smith's job.
With moves like the hiring of quarterback guru Marc Trestman to be head coach, along with offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer, there is hope once again in the Windy City for a top-tier playoff caliber team.
Even bigger hopes that with added help and better coaching, Jay Cutler will finally live up to the potential he had coming out of Vanderbilt, and play well enough to step into the elite NFL quarterback category. Better yet, bring an MVP trophy home to Chicago.
Jay Cutler has been sacked a staggering 148 times in his four seasons for the Bears. Which is why it did not take long for Trestman to hire an offensive coordinator, because the search included only one guy.
Former Saints offensive line coach and interim head coach Aaron Kromer has been considered by many as an offensive line expert. In four seasons with New Orleans, Kromer was able to transform a mediocre line into arguably, the best in the league.
Taking players like fourth-round picks Jermon Bushrod and Jahri Evans and turning them into perennial Pro Bowlers, while giving guys like undrafted center Brian De La Puente chances to shine is proof that Kromer knows how to coach different minded players. Throughout his four season tenure as offensive line coach, Kromer had five of his offensive linemen make 10 Pro Bowls.
"He's a guy that molds you into making the right block. He's not trying to change your mechanics, but he will work with you. He has different techniques to try to make you better instead of trying to change you into something that you're not going to be," said Jahri Evans in an article in the Chicago Tribune.
"He coached guys on an individual level to your strengths, and that is a good way to go about it because guys are different. That is something he is going to bring to the Bears—individualized coaching and really maximizing each player." said Brian De La Puente also in an interview for the Chicago Tribune.
Although Kromer may be the right coach for the Bears offensive line, it is no secret that he needs help. Looking either into free agency for or drafting collegiate prospects is a must for the Bears this offseason. Kromer might not have to look to far from home, as Jermon Bushrod may become an unrestricted free agent this offseason. Bushrod, who has been a staple in the Saints' offensive line since being drafted in 2007, has made the Pro Bowl roster two consecutive years in a row.
Other free agent candidates for the Bears to consider include names like guard Andy Levitre, who has 64 straight starts for the Bills, and has become one of the better inside linemen throughout that time. Rumor is that Buffalo is willing to let Levitre test the free-agent waters, and that might end up being good news for the Bears.
Patriot's tackle Sebastian Vollme is someone else to throw into consideration for Chicago. After a 2011 season where he missed 10 games with an injured back, he was back starting at right tackle in the 2012 season, missing only one game due to injury. He has proved to be one of the better right tackles in the game.
The prize possession of the offensive line free-agent group is evidently Bronco's Ryan Clady. The prized left tackle is looking to bring in a very steep check, so whether the Bears are willing to pay that much for him is yet to be seen. But he is on this list because the Bears haven't been nervous to make a big free-agent splash before.
If the Bears decide to look for offensive line help through the NFL draft, collegiate prospects include players such as Eastern Michigan's highly praised tackle Eric Fisher, who some claim to be the best tackle in the 2013 draft.
If Fisher is gone by the 20th pick, Oklahoma senior tackle Lane Johnson played well in the East-West Shrine game, and should perform just as highly in the NFL Scouting Combine this month. Both are expected to go in the first round of April's draft.
Needless to say, it seems that Chicago's offensive line problems have the potential to be addressed very well by the front office and the coaching of Kromer. With Cutler able to have more time to find his targets, he should put up numbers around his 2008 season in Denver, where he passed for over 4,500 yards and 25 touchdowns in a season where he was only sacked 11 times.
Brandon Marshall was targeted on an enormous 45 percent of Jay Cutler's throws, and the drops of Kellen Davis spoke even louder in Chicago last season. Though he was the right man under Lovie Smith's offensive scheme, it is uncertain that he will be for Trestman. The Bears need someone in the middle of the field who will draw attention and free up receivers.
There was a point when the best receiving threat on the Bears was their tight end. Former Bear Greg Olsen lead all receivers in receptions and touchdowns in 2009 with 60 catches for 612 yards and eight touchdowns. It is still confusing to some Bears fans why Olsen was traded, but that was under the GM leadership of Jerry Angelo, who is now no longer with the team for obvious reasons.
Looking for other tight ends meet the need of a playmaking threat can once again either come through free agency or the draft.
One of the affordable solutions which might come through free agency would be Martellus Bennett. The 25-year-old 6'6'' 265-pound Bennett finally lived up to his potential after being cut by the Cowboys in 2011 with 55 catches for 626 yard and five touchdowns for the Cowboys' NFC rival Giants throughout the 2012 season. If Bennett's attitude problems were solved throughout the 2012 season which got him released in Dallas, he could prove to be a very valuable asset if the Bears were to sign him throughout the free agency period.
Another possible tight end on the Chicago's radar could be Jared Cook. Cook comes with good size and speed, standing at 6'5'' and 248 pounds and running a time of 4.49 in the 40 yard dash at the 2009 combine. In 13 games played for Tennessee last season, Cook recorded 44 receptions totaling 523 yards and four touchdowns. He could prove to be a very worthy candidate if Chicago does decide to sign him to the roster.
If the Bears decide there isn't a worthy enough tight end in free agency, there are plenty of notable tight ends to choose from in the draft in April.
Tyler Eifert has distanced himself on many draft boards as the number one tight end prospect. The Notre Dame playmaker hauled in 50 passes for 685 yards and four touchdowns. He stands tall at 6'6'' and 251 pounds, and showed many signs of being a very willing blocker throughout his senior season for the Fighting Irish. He is projected to be drafted in the first round.
If Eifert is gone or the Bears choose to go a different direction like offensive line in the first round, Zach Ertz showed to be a very valuable asset for the Stanford offense, having a breakout junior year. The 6'6'', 252-pound Ertz doubled his total receptions the 2012 season from his freshman and sophomore season combined, pulling in 69 passes for 898 yards and six touchdowns. He, like Eifert also improved his stock by showing the ability to block very well in the Stanford run game, and should be drafted either in the first or second round.
A bit of a sleeper in this year's draft, but someone who is quickly rising up draft boards in offices around the league is Joseph Fauria. The former Notre Dame transfer was able to grab 46 receptions for 637 yards and 11 touchdowns for the UCLA Bruins this season. Fauria is extremely raw, and doesn't have the best track record blocking wise. This is why he has been labeled a third or fourth round prospect. But this could change in a hurry when scouts see his frame and potential.
There is simply just no way of getting around it, the Bears need an offensive weapon from the tight end position in their arsenal. Adding a credible tight end means better spacing in the secondary and less attention being put on Brandon Marshall and other the Bear receivers, giving Jay Cutler a number of weapons to pass to.
Marc Trestman as offensive coordinator of the Arizona Cardinals in 1998, who he helped get their first playoff in 51 years.
Mike Martz wasn't able to bring his "Greatest Show on Turf" offense to the Windy City with much success, and Mike Tice seemed lost at times calling plays.
With the help of Kromer on the o-line, a respectable receiving threat at the tight end position, play-calling for Trestman should be second nature who went 64-34, a winning percentage of 65.3 percent in his tenure with the Montreal Alouettes.
When asked about who will be calling plays, Trestman had this to say in his introductory news conference:
I'll continue to do that and still continue to do the things that I think are necessary to fulfill my obligation in total as the head football coach. The model is that I'll be in with the quarterback coach and the coordinator in the quarterback meetings on the field. We're going to go hip-to-hip with the quarterback, so there will be an involvement. It will be an involvement that will be intense, but that won't limit my job. I still have to maintain and know what's going on and connect our defense and our special teams as well. There will be time to do that. I've experienced that up in Canada.
Also included in the Bears.com article was talk of how he would be consulting with assistant coaches Aaron Kromer and quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh, who was quarterbacks coach for the New York Jets.
As a play-caller, Trestman will have one of the better running backs in the NFL in Matt Forte to use in his arsenal. Learning under mentor Bill Walsh and the West Coast Offense, it can be thought that Trestman believes that it takes the running game to set up the pass and play action. There is no reason to believe that Trestman's offense will be generally pass-oriented. Forte should be just as highlighted well in both the running game and receiving out of the back field.
2002 regular season MVP Rich Gannon had this to say about Trestman's play-calling style in the Chicago Sun-Times:
His ability to coach the position and call plays and coordinate the whole offense and do that from a head coach’s seat like he did in Canada sets him apart. A lot of people can’t balance all that, and he has proved he can do all that at a high level, just like McCarthy and Payton.
When Brandon Marshall was asked about what he thought about his new head coach, he had this to say on Bears.com.
Just talking to him on the phone and meeting with him in person, you can see how deep he is, it almost reminds me of a philosopher. I've heard a lot about how innovative he is, and I'm excited to see our game plans, our approach to practice and his approach to preparing us. I think it's going to be a great fit and a winning formula. He cares about the player and the person, so that's a win-win. I think he's the piece that we need to bring this whole thing together.
Understanding field position situations and down and yardage will all need to assessed by the new play-calling head coach. Trestman has proven well throughout his tenure in the CFL by winning three straight division championships from 2008-2010, and two straight Grey Cups in 2009-2010.
It seems that Jay Cutler is going to have a coach that is going to be willing to work together with him one on one as well as letting him audible during games. All that is left to do is execute.
Do not be quick to shrug Marc Trestman off as only someone to have success in the CFL. Trestman has 17 years worth of NFL knowledge and experience to his reserve.
He began working originally in the NFL in 1985 with also former CFL head coach, Bud Grant. From there, he moved to Tampa Bay to be their quarterbacks coach in 1987.
The following year held the same position with the Cleveland Browns and helped refine the game of Bernie Kosar and lead the team to a 10-6 record. In 1989, Trestman assisted the Browns in going to the AFC Championship game.
In 1995, Trestman moved to San Francisco to be their quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator. The 49ers that year were first in the NFL in passing and points scored, and in 1996 they were second in the league in passing.
During his span in San Francisco, Trestman coached star quarterback Steve Young. Young had nothing but good things to say about Trestman when asked about the newly hired Chicago head coach. From the Chicago Sun-Times:
The CFL is just a place where he's gotten to show that he's a dynamic leader. He's a dynamic straight-shooter. He's a soft-spoken guy, this is going to be a great hire. Look what's happening in San Francisco. That's what the Bears could be. And I think that's what Marc Trestman can bring them. One of the things that he can really do is break down the quarterback and build him back up.
It is definitely great to have a Hall of Fame quarterback preaching for you.
Jerry Rice, who is thought widely as the greatest wide receiver of all-time and another Hall of Famer enjoyed his finest year as a professional in 1995 under Trestman catching an astounding 122 passes for 1,848 yards and 15 touchdowns.
In 1997, Trestman was the quarterbacks coach in Detroit, helping Scott Mitchell pass for 3,484 yards. And in 1998, he was the quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator for the Arizona Cardinals. There he helped Jake Plummer enjoy one of his finest seasons as the Cardinal QB passed for 3,737 yards and 17 touchdowns, leading Arizona to their first playoff win in 51 years.
In 2001, Trestman moved to Oakland to be the Raiders quarterbacks coach, and in 2002 was promoted to offensive coordinator. 2002 was when Rich Gannon enjoyed his finest year as a professional quarterback, passing for 4,689 yards and 26 touchdowns, while leading the Raiders to a Super Bowl.
Gannon had this to say about Trestman in the Chicago Sun-Times:
The way he relates to the quarterback, every quarterback who has played for him has gotten better. You learn about the importance of footwork, decision-making and getting the ball out on time, Cutler’s completion percentage would go way up, his interceptions would go down and his efficiency in the red zone and on third down would improve because he’ll have a thorough understanding of what he’s conceptually doing offensively.
If what multiple Hall of Famers and MVPs like Young, Rice and Gannon say is true, along with numerous big names like Kosar and Plummer, then Jay Cutler will have no problem being able to be a pupil under the teaching of Trestman. Cutler should be able to improve his footwork in the pocket, leading to less sacks and more completions, putting that rocket arm to work like he never has before.
2013 will be the year that Jay Cutler takes the step into elite NFL quarterback status.
Being surrounded by a coach who knows the trade of offensive line, and getting better talent at the offensive line positions will make this happen.
Being able to have a threat in the middle of the field with a reliable tight end will not only help be another receiver to Cutler, but help free up other wideouts.
Having a play-caller in place who understands the offense and how to be able to execute a intricate game-plan.
And most importantly, having someone available to teach Cutler how to make the most of his talent. How to move within the pocket, how to have feet planted during throwing, how to even better read defenses.
2013 will be the year that Jay Cutler finally lives up with all the talent and the potential.
Just listen to the Youtube video connected to this slide of how Steve Young and Ron Jaworski talk about the talent that Cutler possesses.
Both had the quarterback ranked ahead of USC's Matt Leinart and Texas' Vince Young, who were widely known as bigger school quarterbacks from more successful programs. Both understood that if Cutler is put into a position where there is talent around him, he would flourish.
With new coaching and new additions to the roster, there is no reason why Jay Cutler shouldn't establish himself as one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL, and bring an MVP trophy home to Chicago.