Mike Martz: From feared to flexible

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- There was a time when the words "Mike Martz offense" evoked fear and respect, an image of speed and precision.

Last year, not so much.

And this week, it was not clear whether Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith was trying to spare his offensive coordinator from blame or spread the credit when he reprimanded one reporter who used the words "Mike" and "offense" too close together by reminding us, "It's a Chicago Bear offense. Let's get that down."

The confusion is fitting because for much of last season, the Martz/Bears offense wasn't sure exactly what it was -- a poor and outdated imitation of Martz's pass-heavy trademark system or a more efficient hybrid that harkened back to the grind-it-out style so dear to Chicago fans' hearts.

Martz appeared stubborn to change, Smith appeared reluctant to assert his authority and only when they seemed to concede to the pleas from the peanut gallery did the Bears' offense stop sabotaging the defense on a fairly routine basis. The team won five straight games after the bye week and seven of the last nine en route to the postseason and a berth in the conference championship, an ending that might well have led to the Super Bowl if not for the injury to the starting quarterback.

So it is hard to fault Martz if, in his first public comments since the week before that game (and how does that happen, by the way?), he sounded optimistic despite lingering shortcomings.

The good news was that when asked whether his/the Bears' offense would pick up philosophically where it left off with a balanced diet of run and pass, Martz appeared a bit more flexible.

"We just do whatever it takes to win the game. You find your own personality with that," he said Tuesday. "I expect with the backs that we have and the tight ends, and now that the line is settled, that the run will always be a very, very important factor in our ability to win. So that mix we had, I would expect to be very similar to [that].

"[When] you start throwing the ball more than 35 times, it's usually not good."

"Settled" might be a tad strong, but Martz was referring to the tackles where, after two practices in pads, the Bears appear set on J'Marcus Webb on the left side and the building that is rookie Gabe Carimi on the right. The other positions on the line remain in scary flux, particularly at center, where they hope Chris Spencer is ready but are willing to start the season with Roberto Garza.

Either way, they will be big, and for that, Martz is grateful.

"Big and physical is obviously [the theme]," he said. "We're not a finesse, cute, cut, pull-around and do those kinds of things. We want to come off the ball, and these are those types of guys, so we're happy with that."

New tight end Matt Spaeth, at 6-foot-7, 270 pounds, would like it to be known that he is not comparing himself to Mike Ditka even though Jerry Angelo appeared to do that when talking about the Greg Olsen trade over the weekend. But Martz loves his tight ends, who as of Tuesday afternoon include fan favorite Desmond Clark, whom the team signed to a one-year deal.

"These are two giant tight ends who can run," Martz said of Spaeth and Kellen Davis. "Kellen can flat run and catch. We've got two tight ends we think can block a defensive end by themselves. That's hard to do in the NFL. But you get a tight end with that big ol' wing span, what that does is you don't have to double-team the edge to get outside. It allows you a freedom in the running game that you would normally not have.

"Instead of running away from him, you can run at him and expect him to win without getting help from the tackle. It really allows you to be a lot more multiple in your runs and more creative with your running back."

That's a tall order, to be sure, and something Olsen couldn't do. But it certainly would help the running game.

Martz is wildly optimistic as well about his receiving corps, which also got stronger after an offseason bulking up.

"We had to get stronger, from our legs to our upper body, to catch 10-yard routes and break them for touchdowns," said Johnny Knox, who said he gained 10 to 12 pounds of muscle.

But Martz saved his biggest pumping up for new Bears receiver Roy Williams, whom he coached through Williams' best years, in '06 and '07 in Detroit.

"I just know how competitive and tough Roy is," Martz said. "Roy excels when you put it on his plate and say,'OK, you've got to win the game with this play.' He's that kind of player. Those are elite players, and he's an elite player. They're at their best in those circumstances, and he's a physical guy, makes plays after the catch and has incredible hands, knows the system, which in this short preseason is really important. I could go on and on about Roy."

Expect Martz to continue to use the deep drop for Jay Cutler after he called his quarterback's improved footwork "amazing."

"I was kind of stunned," Martz said. "He has done an awful lot of work on his own in the offseason. I was kind of giddy to be honest with you because watching him drop right now is textbook, and I didn't know how we were going to get him there, but he got there himself before he came to work, and we couldn't be more happy with that."

It was the closest thing to an admission from anyone with the Bears that there was anything wrong with Cutler's footwork, despite the fact that seemingly every former quarterback near a microphone has talked about it.

"It's amazing," Martz said.

As a coordinator and not a head coach, he is allowed to be giddy.

Especially now that it's not his offense anymore.

Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.