While trust and communication might be important aspects of any relationship, for the offensive line, the confidence among players is often the difference between winning or losing. Just ask recently signed Chicago Bears tight end, Matt Spaeth.
"That’s where I think the lack of OTAs this year really comes into play,” Spaeth said in the locker room today. “There’s not that gradual process of getting used to the guy playing next to you. Suddenly you find yourself in a game situation and you need to communicate quickly, but accurately. To say that’s a challenge, particularly for those of us who are new to this system, would be putting it mildly.”
The abbreviated training camp due to this year’s NFL lockout put a further stumbling block in Spaeth’s way: terminology.
“Its so complex and it takes quite a while to master.” Spaeth said. “Even though throughout the NFL there are similar words used for similar situations, the terms don’t necessarily mean exactly the same thing from team to team.”
TE Matt Spaeth
“I’ll hear a word barked out at the line of scrimmage as a play is beginning. Immediately my brain goes into overdrive,” he said. “First I remember what that meant with my last team, the Pittsburgh Steelers. Then realize that I’m lined up with Chicago now. Wrong move; need to correct it. I adjust on the fly. This is something I’m working on 24 hours a day. I’m determined to get this right before the opening game in September. I think the rookies have it worse, but it’s definitely a challenge, even for the vets.
Fellow TE Kellen Davis has been with the Bears since being drafted by Chicago in the 5th round in 2009 but Davis has rarely played during his three years, languishing on the depth chart behind 2008 first-rounder Greg Olsen. Olsen was traded earlier this year and now Davis seems to be on the fast track to locking up the starting job. He’s definitely feeling the pressure.
“Do I feel the need to perform? Definitely,” Davis said. “But it’s more than just me involved here. It’s all of us on the O-line. We need to be on the same page. There’s been a lot of scrutiny as far as protection for Cutler is concerned both in the media and among the fans.”
Because of the line’s struggles in 2010, Davis understands why at a lot of attention has been paid to the unit this season.
“It’s all about protecting the quarterback. That’s how you win. We are definitely under a microscope,” said Davis. “And I think that much of that is justified. But right now we’re playing a game of catch up here. There are a lot of new faces on the team as a whole. We need to get acquainted real fast.
“Protecting [quarterback] Jay [Cutler] and giving him time to do his thing is paramount to our success. We need to be at the point as a unit where we anticipate what each other is thinking. That way we move as a coordinated whole, not just one guy doing his move and another doing something else.”
And how, exactly, does the line get to that point?
“It is sometimes as simple as doing things together both on and off the field,” Davis said. “For example, going to dinner as a unit once a week is a good start. The more friendships, the more trust we can build among ourselves, the better.”
And so far it seems to be working. Although the Bears lost to the Giants last Monday night, Cutler was able to get 12 completions with 21 attempts for a passer rating of 83.6. He was sacked only once, a marked improvement over the 10 sacks the Giants handed out against Cutler last time the two teams met.
Cutler told the media on Wednesday that every player on the team was being held accountable and he felt things would gel along the offensive line by opening day.
“Game to game I see improvement,” Cutler said. “It’s nice to have the opportunity to move in the pocket and get that seven-step drop. That’s how we make the plays that confuse defenses.”
With three games in 11 days for the Bears, there should be ample opportunity for the offense to get its house in order before facing Atlanta on September 11.
“Don’t worry we’ll be ready” Davis said. “We’ll all be best friends by then.”
Beth Gorr has been covering the Bears for the last 12 years and is the author of Bear Memories: The Chicago-Green Bay Rivalry. She is currently working on a second book about early Bears history.