Experts will throw out a lot of explanations for why the Chicago Bears haven't seen more playoff success over the past few decades. They can poke and prod certain coaches, managers and players all they like. However one stat has become universal for this team. They haven't seen a top ten offense in this city since 1995. Eighteen years of futility on the most important side of the ball in the NFL (no matter what traditionalists may argue). So what has second-year GM Phil Emery done about it? Here's the 2013 offensive outlook.
It all starts at the top. Chicago fans have no idea how rare a man like Marc Trestman is to this team and this city. In fact the Bears haven't had an offensive-minded coach since...wait for it...Abe Gibron way back in the mid-1970s. For those who will argue about Mike Ditka, while the Da Coach did indeed play offense as a Hall of Fame tight end, his coaching career with the Dallas Cowboy prior to joining the Bears was as an assistant coach who focused primarily on special teams. So to hand the reign of this franchise over to a veteran disciple of the West Coast offense created by the great Bill Walsh is a bigger deal than people can understand. Regardless, the more important question is what can Trestman do?
Well, as proven by previous coaches for the Bears, the unit they gained notoriety through always shows the most improvement. Under Lovie Smith, the defense went from the 22nd in 2003 to 13th in 2004 to 1st in 2005. In just two seasons Smith managed to build one of the best defenses in football. Like Smith, Trestman has loads of experience coming with him. He has seen success with multiple franchises such as Cleveland, San Francisco and Oakland. They even share the dubious distinction of losing a Super Bowl back-to-back years as coordinator (Smith with the Rams in 2001 and Trestman with the Raiders in 2002). Still one could argue Trestman came out of that with a greater understanding of not just winning but managing people. He left the NFL in 2004, and surfaced in Canada in 2007 after a stint in college football. There he finally got his chance as head coach. In three straight seasons he would reach the Grey Cup championship game, winning two-in-a-row.
During this period Trestman further strengthened what drew Phil Emery to him in the first place: his ability to mentor quarterbacks. The list is long in names of who the 57-year old coach has taught but perhaps his greatest success was Bernie Kosar. The two first met in 1981 when Trestman was quarterback coach for the Miami Hurricanes. That same year Kosar led the team to a national title on 2,329 yards passing. The next year he increased that to 3,642. When Kosar went pro in 1985 he used what he learned from Trestman to get the Cleveland Browns to three AFC championships in four seasons. There are other stories about the new head coach but they all spell out the same message: he knows quarterbacks.
Like any coach Trestman prefers to stick with mostly people he knows. So when the Bears hired New Orleans offensive line coach Aaron Kromer as offensive coordinator, it wasn't a surprise since the two worked together in Oakland. Kromer has a diverse background but is best known for his exceptional work under Sean Payton with the Saints where he specialized in development. The same year he took over in 2009 was the same year the team won the Super Bowl, allowing just 20 sacks. His assistant, Pat Meyer, coached with Trestman up in Canada where Montreal enjoyed one of the best offensive line schemes in the CFL.
One of the more controversial hirings made by Chicago was quarterback coach Matt Cavanaugh. He was brought in after a stint with the New York Jets and their ongoing soap opera with Mark Sanchez. However, it should be noted two out of the four seasons Cavanaugh spent in New York the team reached back-to-back AFC championship games.
Tight end coach Andy Bischoff spent his last five seasons in Montreal with Trestman coaching the running backs (the Alouettes had the CFL leading rusher in 2012).
Skip Peete came over from Dallas to coach the running backs. He also spent time in Oakland with Trestman. Between those two teams Peete's units have ranked in the top ten in rushing four times
Mike Groh is the baby the group, joining the team as receivers coach at age 41. However this comes after a successful stint in the same position under Nick Saban at Alabama where the Crimson Tide won two-straight national titles.
Where speed makes up the description of what Phil Emery is building on defense, size encompasses what he envisions on offense. All-Pro receiver Brandon Marshall is the latest fan favorite in Chicago, standing an impressive 6'4". Flanking him now after a busy free agency and NFL draft is tight end Martellus Bennett (6'6"), receivers Alshon Jeffery (6'3"), Marquess Wilson (6'3"), and Earl Bennett (6'0") Even the reserves brought in boast some height like tight end Fendi Onobun who is 6'6" (and coincidentally a former basketball teammate of Martellus Bennett and Jermichael Finley). This is easily the biggest and perhaps most athletic receiving corps the Bears have ever assembled.
By far the most changes to the unit have come along the offensive line. This isn't a surprise since the team has allowed at least 35 sacks on its quarterbacks since 2009. Two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jermon Bushrod came in from New Orleans, and was later joined by veteran guards Matt Slauson and Eben Britton. Slauson is perhaps the more important signing since he was credited with not giving up a single sack last season. Joining them via the draft is 1st round pick Kyle Long out of Oregon, a hyper athletic lineman known for his rare blends of size and agility and his Hall of Famer father, Howie Long. Also coming in the 5th round was Jordan Mills, a big, powerful blocker from Louisiana Tech. They join a ragtag group of survivors like J'Marcus Webb and Roberto Garza in the mission to improve the all around blocking for the offense.
The running backs are already known to Bears fans. Starter Matt Forte is among the most versatile runners in football, able to make plays between the tackles and catching passes out of the backfield. His backup Michael Bush is a big, power runner with nimble feet and deceptive receiving skill. Third string man Armando Allen is a special teams staple who offers good depth.
However the group that will have the microscope one them from the starter are the quarterbacks. Jay Cutler finally has a coach who will feed him the playbook directly. At age 30 and with his contract in its last year, Cutler needs a good season if he wants to stay in Chicago long-term. It's worth noting the last time he played in a West Coast system, he went to the Pro Bowl. Josh McCown figures to enter the season as the backup. He is a longtime veteran of the league, known for his scrambling ability and excellent locker room presence. Third stringer Matt Blanchard came in last season as an undrafted free agent. He was very raw but showed unexpected talent that the Bears hope to explore now that they have a head coach for it.
The Chicago Bears offense ranked 28th last season. Unless Marc Trestman suddenly forgets what made him a good coach in the first place it's fair to assume the unit will finish somewhere above that. How far it goes will depend on how well the new offensive line blocks, how the young receivers flourish behind Brandon Marshall and how quickly Cutler can pick up the playbook. It's asking a lot, which is why head coaches and general managers get paid the big bucks.