Kromer’s system requires skill players to work with linemen
BY MARK POTASH Staff Reporter August 21, 2013 9:14PM
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Updated: September 23, 2013 2:47PM
Bears left tackle Jermon Bushrod made the key block to spring Matt Forte for a 58-yard run against the San Diego Chargers last week, but wasn’t taking any of the credit for it.
‘‘Forte made me look good,’’ Bushrod said. ‘‘He set the block up for me. He stretched the guy as much as he could and put the guy on me. He made me look good. That’s all I ask him to do.’’
It wasn’t just Bushrod’s athleticism that made the big play happen. It was his acting ability. On third-and-one, he sold the play — a quick toss to the outside with Bushrod pulling to the left side — as something it was not.
‘‘Third-and-one with the tackle pulling, you need the tackle to be deceptive in his stance in that down-and-distance to have the ability to run outside without giving it away,’’ said Tom Thayer, the former Bears guard and current radio analyst. ‘‘If you had Jermon Bushrod in an awful stance on third-and-one and four of those players identified him as pulling to the outside, it would be harder to run. Those deceptions have to be equally hidden as the play itself.’’
The Bushrod-Forte combination illustrates one of many nuances to the blocking scheme being installed by offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer. Like any blocking scheme, it’s built on teamwork. But Kromer’s scheme is so meticulous and precise, it’s choreographed as much as it is designed. Each blocker has to be in total concert with the rest of the offense every step of the way.
‘‘I put myself in the right position. But he [Forte] did his thing,’’ Bushrod said of the 58-yard play. ‘‘That’s one thing our coaches preach — we have to give our running backs the correct look. The defense has to be in the right spots, so he knows when the situation comes, ‘OK. Let’s stretch this guy here so he can make the right cut.’ And that’s exactly what he did. I gave a decent block, but the fact that me and Matt were working hand-in-hand and playing off each other [made it work].’’
Kromer uses a variety of blocking schemes, but his specialty is the zone blocking scheme that takes advantage of athletic linemen. ‘‘It gives you an alternative,’’ Thayer said. ‘‘If the hole or the play designed is not there, it gives the back [the option] to cut back to the hole. It’s not one-dimensional.’’
‘‘It’s a different way of blocking people,’’ said center Roberto Garza, a 12-year veteran. ‘‘Different targets. Different footwork. Different ways of using our hands. It’s a complete overhaul from what we were doing before.’’
To Garza, this transition is the same as previous transitions under Harry Hiestand in 2005 and Mike Tice in 2010. The challenge this time is that none of the current starters has played together. In fact, four of the five were on different teams last season.
Bushrod, who played for Kromer for five years with the Saints, is the only one familiar with this scheme. Long played in a zone-blocking scheme at Oregon last year but it wasn’t quite like this one. ‘‘We were just kind of running at Oregon,’’ Long said. ‘‘Here there’s a method to the madness.’’
To Kromer, a scheme is a scheme. He’s just using the one he believes in and has the athletes to run. In Kromer’s five seasons in New Orleans, the Saints ranked in the top three in scoring four times.
Like any other blocking scheme, it’s a matter of teaching, learning and repitition.
‘‘It’s just like anything else. It’s techniques,’’ Kromer said. ‘‘Every transition is hard until they experience it. We were talking in the offseason about techniques and things and they had no idea what I was talking about. I’d show them on film. I’d show them on paper and they still had no idea. They shook their heads like they did. But when we walked out of here, they had no idea. Because they hadn’t felt it yet.
‘‘Once they felt it, and they worked it, then I went back and showed them again — this is what we’re trying to get done. ‘Oh, ok. I get it.’ But until you actually feel it and do it yourself, it is a learned [skill].’’
The Bears have upgraded their offensive line, particularly with Bushrod at left tackle and Long at right guard. But Kromer might be the most important new element, because of his ability to teach.
‘‘I learned stuff in the first two weeks here that I didn’t learn in a year at Oregon,’’ Long said. ‘‘He’s just so passionate about make sure we are all technically sound. He does a great job.’’
‘‘He wholeheartedly believes in this deal,’’ left guard Matt Slauson said. ‘‘The coaches do a tremendous job of mixing in a lot of things. It’s a very, very intelligent staff. They do a lot of good things to put us in positions to succeed.’’
Thayer said Kromer’s meticulous approach ‘‘changes the culture’’ of the offensive line.
‘‘Scheme is scheme, but it’s more important to have a quality coach and a guy that is a stickler for details,’’ Thayer said. ‘‘I’m not slighting Mike Tice. I’d just say that Aaron has a more serious approach in getting the point across. And he has a more serious approach as to if you fail, there are alternatives.’’
Thayer, a starting guard on the Bears’ 1985 Super Bowl team, sees indications of progress.
‘‘There was a trap play last week, where the offensive guard has to be deceptive to the defensive tackle, making him think he’s going to block him but letting him jump around the whole time,’’ Thayer said. ‘‘Then the defensive lineman is penetrating, thinking he’s going to make a tackle, and then he gets crushed by Kyle Long. There’s a syncronicity for the offensive line to work where they have to understand each other’s assignments. That’s a big key.’’
The big question is whether the line will be in sync enough from the start of a season. This is not supposed to be a rebuilding year. If the line needs too much time to gel, it could become one.
‘‘It should come together as we roll into the season,’’ Kromer said. ‘‘There are going to be things that happen during the season that we improve. So whether it’s preseason [game] No. 1 or [regular-season] game No. 14, we’re just working to get better at the schemes, understand the techniques and keep improving through the year in a new system.’’