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Martz praises Knox, Hester, sees strides from Olsen, linemen

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM



Maybe it’s because Lovie Smith says so little it makes everything Mike Martz says seem interesting by comparison. Maybe it’s because the Bears’ offense remains such a work in progress despite the team’s success last season that updates from its architect take on added significance.

Either way, the Bears’ offensive coordinator provided many talking points during a wide-ranging interview at the NFL Scouting Combine. In Monday’s editions, he discussed the controversy surrounding quarterback Jay Cutler’s knee injury in the NFC Championship Game loss to the Green Bay Packers and why Todd Collins, not Caleb Hanie, was Cutler’s primary backup.

Tuesday, he weighed in on the offensive line, Devin Hester’s ability to be a No. 1 receiver and the role of tight end Greg Olsen.

“He’s made more strides as a football player than all our guys,” Martz said of Hester. “In the end, he was ­really playing good. I was very pleased with Devin. He can be anything he wants.”

While much is being made about the Bears needing a bigger, more physical receiver, Martz said it’s speed that puts pressure on defenses. With Hester and Johnny Knox, the Bears have two of the fastest receivers in the league, although both are still learning the nuances of the position and must continue to improve.

“When you have speed on the perimeter, that puts pressure on a defense, now,” ­Martz said. “You can pound them and pound them, and there goes Johnny with the ball or Devin takes one to the house. If you don’t have that kind of threat on the outside, it’s a whole different dimension for the defense.

“Whether you throw the ball to Devin or not, when you trot him out of the huddle and line him up out there, that cornerback takes a big gulp.”

Martz said Knox made strides in his second season. He admitted that he underestimated Earl Bennett, who will have a bigger role next season, while reserving the most praise for Hester.

“He took the corners of the Jets on one-on-one and embarrassed them,” Martz said. “When he did that at the end of the year, I said this kid is really getting it now. He’s making that transition. He’s got that ability. He definitely has No. 1 ability. It’s just the stamina of having to play fast every snap that was unusual for him.”

Olsen’s 41 catches and 404 yards were his fewest since his rookie year. The Bears must determine how big a role he will have before deciding whether to offer the 2007 first-round draft pick a contract extension — and at what price. Martz said ­Olsen’s value can’t be measured in numbers.

“He did so many things for us,” Martz said. “Coaches around the league will look at what he did and say, ‘Wow, this guy had a hell of a year.’ I feel bad because as a receiver he can do so much more. But early on from a protection standpoint we had to move him around a little bit. He’s unselfish. We used him as a lead blocker, as a fullback, as a tight end, as a wide receiver, and it’s hard on the defense to account for guys like that. If we take set and play recognition away from them, then they just have to play defense and that’s kind of what we did.”

The Bears’ most prominent needs heading into the NFL draft in April and free agency are along the offensive line and at defensive tackle. The draft is deep at offensive tackle, which should give the Bears options when they make their first-round pick at No. 29. Center/guard Mike Pouncy of Florida eventually could replace veteran center Olin Kreutz, for example.

“They made remarkable progress,” Martz said of an offensive line that was a glaring weakness early and less of one as the season progressed. “I do think [J’Marcus] Webb, from where he was in preseason to where he was at the end, was remarkable. I’m anxious to get Olin back. He went into that season worn down from the surgeries. He didn’t have a chance to train in the offseason. We put Chris [Williams] inside. He hadn’t been inside before. That’s a whole different world. [Roberto] Garza played really well at right guard, where he has never played before.

“Anytime you can add anyone, I don’t care what the position is, then obviously you have to do that. We’ve got some young guys in there learning how to play, just like we did at wide receiver. If we didn’t add anything to the mix we could continue on and do very well. But if we can add to the mix that’s a bonus.”



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