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Marc Trestman has what past Bears offensive saviors didn’t — playmakers

Updated: September 8, 2013 12:21PM



Will we be fooled again?

Marc Trestman isn’t the first quarterback guru to try to give the Bears an offense Chicago can be proud of. It’s hard to blame the cynics who have to see Trestman’s offense to believe it because we’ve been disappointed so often before.

When Dick Jauron succeeded Dave Wannstedt in 1999, he hired Gary Crowton, architect of a prolific offense at Louisiana Tech, as his offensive coordinator. The reviews of Crowton were glowing.

‘‘He’s really a genius when it comes to designing plays,’’ said Pete Carmichael Jr., then Crowton’s quarterbacks coach and now the offensive coordinator for the New Orleans Saints.

‘‘He’s got every screen known to man,’’ one opposing coach said. ‘‘Everyone is throwing that bubble screen [today]. He was the first to use it.’’

Everybody I talked to about Crowton was convinced his offense would work in the NFL. All those formations. All those plays. He could find the weakness in any defense and exploit it on the fly. And those bubble screens.

It started with a bang. In a thrilling first half against the Kansas City Chiefs, the Bears gained 229 yards, scored 20 points and had not one, but two effective quarterbacks. Shane Matthews threw two touchdown passes and had a 128.3 passer rating. Rookie Cade McNown was 6-for-9 for 77 yards and a 93.3 passer rating. Happy days were here again.

It didn’t take long for the red flags to pop up. A scoreless second half against the Chiefs in which the Bears eked out a 20-17 victory was almost the beginning of the end. Chiefs coach Gunther Cunningham called Crowton’s offense ‘‘razzle dazzle,’’ and Bears fans were too delirious to realize that Cunningham was right.

As it turned out, on bubble screens at the college level, defenders could be blocked at the snap of the ball. But in the NFL, you had to wait until the receiver caught the ball — a significant difference. And relative to the college game, weaknesses in NFL defenses are more difficult to exploit. Even the bad players are pretty good. By November of the following season, Crowton was off to BYU and the Bears were starting over again.

Mike Martz arrived with more suspicion than fanfare in 2010, but as the mastermind of ‘‘The Greatest Show on Turf,’’ he had instant credibility. What he didn’t have were the future Hall of Famers who made it happen with the St. Louis Rams: Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, Orlando Pace and Isaac Bruce. Most of all, he couldn’t keep opposing defenses off Jay Cutler’s back. Cutler was sacked 52 times as the Bears’ offense dropped from 23rd to 30th under the great Martz.

That brings us to Trestman, who arrived with similar accomplishments, accolades and testimonials. He reached the Super Bowl with the Oakland Raiders. He made Rich Gannon an MVP. And as a head coach, he won a championship in Montreal.

Can he build an NFL offense in Chicago? Nobody knows for sure, and the cynics are right until further notice. This is Chicago, after all.

But even after one preseason, it’s hard not to be encouraged. The lesson of the Crowton failure was that no matter how inventive you are, it still takes good players to win in the NFL. The lesson of the Martz failure is that you better protect your quarterback first and develop him second.

Trestman has what Crowton and Martz did not. He has four Pro Bowl-caliber players at the right positions — Cutler, wide receiver Brandon Marshall, running back Matt Forte and left tackle Jermon Bushrod. And unless the preseason was a mirage, he has an offensive line that will give Cutler a chance.

And his offense isn’t built around a bubble screen.

‘‘The offense we ran in Montreal was customized for that league,’’ Trestman said. ‘‘We’re not bringing things that are customized for that league back into this league. We’re not experimenting — we’re not experimenting with things we did up there to see if they’ll work here.’’

Email: mpotash@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MarkPotash



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