photo: Omar Ureña (Gráfico Sports)
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. (AP) — This time last year, Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman was still something of a curiosity.
He was a guy leading an NFL team for the first time as training camp started, plucked from Canada after spending several years out of the league.
The results were just about spectacular on offense. On defense, it was a different story. And the record was the definition of a mixed bag.
After going 8-8 and missing the playoffs for the sixth time in seven seasons, the Bears are looking for more.
They envision a defense that ranked among the league’s worst making a big leap after a major overhaul that saw them land star defensive end Jared Allen, and they believe an offense that ranked among the league’s best will come through again.
After all, that group is entering Year 2 in Trestman’s system. The playbook isn’t being learned; it’s simply being tweaked.
“The only difference in the offseason is last year we put in a playbook and this year we refined the playbook with more study and research throughout the league because we didn’t have time to do it a year ago,” Trestman said. “This year we did. We were much more specific in our research, researching the league and doing the kinds of things that other teams do and doing it at highly detailed level to make sure we could equip our football team with the best of the football that we could (teach) them.”
The offense certainly performed at a high level a year ago. That group ranked overall, and Chicago finished second to Denver in scoring.
Jay Cutler played as well as he has since he joined the Bears. Alshon Jeffery emerged as a Pro Bowl receiver alongside Brandon Marshall, and orchestrating it all was a coach who seemed like a gamble.
With his comb-over and dark-rimmed glasses, Trestman didn’t look the part of an NFL coach. He didn’t sound the part of one, either.
When camp opened last year, he used terms like “accountability exercise” to describe the conditioning tests players go through before the first training camp practice.
On Friday, the Bears will be at it again. They’ll hold their first practice of their second training camp under Trestman, ready to give whatever they can to make it all come together.
They insist they have the right coach, that they believe in the man leading them.
“He’s a great man,” center Roberto Garza said. “Everything he does is for the better of this team. Every decision he makes, you can tell that thought has gone into it. … We trust in him. He talks about relationships and that’s what it’s about. It’s about everyone making each other better. How can you not follow the guy that has that motto?”
Yet, that was one of the biggest questions when Trestman was hired. Can he lead an NFL team? More specifically, can he connect with Cutler?
Bernie Kosar, Steve Young and Rich Gannon all excelled under Trestman when he was a college or NFL assistant. But he had most recently been working in Canada, coaching the Montreal Alouettes to two CFL titles in five seasons.
Cutler had clashed with previous offensive coordinators in Chicago and had not quite played up to his talent level whether it was because of the scheme, poor blocking, the lack of a top-tier receiver or his own mistakes. It was a different story last season.
Cutler had the second-highest completion percentage of his career (63.1) and a personal-best rating (89.2), although injuries limited him to 11 games. It helped that he had the weapons around him, with a rebuilt line and stars at receiver and running back (Matt Forte), along with a system that suited the talent.
Now, entering Year 2 under Trestman, the Bears have higher expectations.
“I think you’ve got to be careful with that,” Cutler said. “We’ve still got a lot of work to do. We still got a lot of things to prepare on.”
NOTE: RG Kyle Long said Thursday he was “pretty sick and run down” over the weekend but is feeling “a lot better.” He will miss the first few practices because of a viral infection and be re-evaluated next week.