ARKUSH: Cutler must be Bears' change
Perhaps the Bears' defense will be stout again this year, or maybe it slips a bit. Either way, last year's 10 wins, which are usually good enough for a playoff spot, were mainly the result of great defense, a remarkable bit of good fortune, and a few more cupcakes on the schedule than usual.
To match that total this year, the offense flat out has to do more.
The assumption from the moment Marc Trestman arrived has been that offensive wizardry is in his back pocket, or minimally that it's in the bag. But reading and hearing about it, and actually having the club "self-actualize" it are two very different things. It seems to me it's time for a few specifics.
Clearly, Jay Cutler carries a great deal of the responsibility during the Bears offense's makeover.
Offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said of his new pupil, "Jay has really done a nice job of digesting this system, and he's done a nice job of leading the team's digesting of the system."
Cutler seems to like the new system and his new teachers.
"These are very smart guys, the system is very quarterback-friendly and they want to make it as easy on us as they can and they're fun to work with," he said.
I'm glad these guys are having fun, but where will we see the improvement?
Trestman is recognized as an offensive savant, and the system will be different and better. But he's also made very clear, "We'll be very vanilla in the preseason and the starters will all see the same limited action we're used to."
The coach isn't counting on the system being the change; he's challenging his quarterback first.
In his post-practice comments, Trestman described Cutler's play and improvement enthusiastically, saying, "He's practicing very efficiently, throwing the ball away and checking it down a lot."
To some, it may have been a throwaway sound byte. But in reality, it was the description of Jay Cutler, West Coast QB vs. Cutler the gunslinger.
It is impossible to fully explain in one column the West Coast scheme Trestman is believed to favor, but the CliffsNotes go something like this: Use the pass to establish the run, short timing routes, lots of screens and flares to the running backs, and checkdowns fast when the deep route isn't there early.
Add to that: Keep the chains moving, no sacks and no turnovers. A short gain beats a throwaway and a throwaway will always beat a giveaway. Death by a thousand paper cuts is still death.
It will be nice if Cutler can become more accurate and more consistent, but first he must be more efficient. Trestman's goal apears to be to change his mindset more than his mechanics.
Kromer's first statement of the preseason was, "Our main goal right now is ball security, pre-snap adjustments and learning the system."
Once Cutler is ready, he will lead this team. But don't be surprised if Matt Forte is the offensive MVP. Every great West Coast offense has had a special running back who is part runner and part receiver, and Kromer is every bit as excited about Forte as he is Cutler.
"You can't appreciate him until you work with him every day," Kromer said. "Coming out of college, we wanted him really badly in New Orleans. He's big, he's strong and he's very fast."
For this offense to get better, the system and Trestman will clearly matter, but only if the old dogs like Cutler and Forte can learn the new tricks this coaching staff is trying to teach them. The ability is there and it's up to the players, not the system, to make it work.
• Hub Arkush covers the Bears for Shaw Media and HubArkush.com. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.