Can Cutler, Forte be Warner, Faulk?

QB Jay Cutler (AP: Paul Sancya)

With Mike Martz coordinating the Chicago Bears on offense, close your eyes and consider the best-case scenario, if only for a moment. Are they still closed? OK, now imagine numbers like this in 2010. ...

Jay Cutler

It has been established that Cutler will be the most talented quarterback Mike Martz has ever worked with in terms of physical tools, meaning he possesses the potential to put together a season like Kurt Warner did in 2001:

375 of 546 (68.7 percent), 4,830 yards, 36 TDs, 22 INTs

This was the second of Warner's two MVPs with the Rams, when his touchdown-to-interception ratio wasn't nearly as good as the 41-to-13 he assembled in 1999, but he still led the NFL in completions, completion percentage, passing yards, touchdown passes, touchdown percentage, yards per attempt and passer rating. Cutler has already completed as many as 384 passes and thrown for as much as 4,526 yards in a season, accomplishing both in 2008 with the Broncos. However, he needs to hit more big plays downfield if he wants those TD-percentage and yards-per-attempt rankings to jump significantly.

While the 4,830 passing yards may be unrealistic for a Lovie Smith-coached team, the 36 TDs are within reach for Cutler and would set a new franchise record.

Matt Forte

Chicago's primary ball carrier disappointed as a sophomore following a terrific rookie campaign, but perhaps Martz's system will take better advantage of what he does well and produce a year like Marshall Faulk once did, also in 2001:

260 for 1,382 (5.3 yards per carry), 83 for 765 (9.2 yards per catch), 21 TDs

Faulk rushed and received his way to a third-straight All-Pro team, leading the league in yards per carry, yards per game and total touchdowns scored, plus he did all that despite missing two contests with an injury. Forte not only has the hands to catch 83 passes out the backfield since he has reeled in 120 balls to date in two years, but he is also capable of running all the different routes Faulk did as both a tailback and a receiver. Although 5.3 yards per carry is probably out of reach, because Forte isn't nearly as elusive as Faulk was in his prime.

Forte will be better off getting fewer carries but catching more passes, as running backs tend to take less punishment after a reception than they do after a handoff.

Devin Hester

Since former offensive coordinator Ron Turner never really understood how to take advantage of Hester's skills on offense, maybe Martz can turn him into a modern-day Isaac Bruce and carbon-copy this 2002 stat line:

79 catches, 1,075 yards, 13.6 yards per catch, 7 TDs


WR Devin Hester
AP Images: M. Spencer Green

With Torry Holt having taken over as the primary target in St. Louis at this point, Bruce still murdered opposing defensive backs on the intermediate-range routes, posting his sixth 1,000-yard campaign even though he never came up with a catch longer than 34 yards. Turner was fooled into believing Hester had deep speed based on what he did previously in the return game, but the former corner has actually been more effective on 10- and 20-yard patterns thanks to an ability to make sharp cuts. Martz loves to call long curls and deep outs, both of which Hester can run well.

Hester's career average of 13.4 yards per catch proves he isn't a classic burner on those flies and posts, but neither was Bruce once he hit 30.

Earl Bennett

Bennett's numbers in college were gaudy without being explosive, which is a good way to describe what the aforementioned Holt did under Martz and evidenced by this performance, also from 2002:

91 catches, 1,302 yards, 14.3 yards per catch, 4 TDs

Never very big at about 6-0, 190 pounds and never very fast at about 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash, Holt simply had a feel for finding a soft spot in the zone while with the Rams and caught everything thrown his way. The same can be said for Bennett, who reunited with Cutler, his former teammate at Vanderbilt, after a zero-catch rookie season and proved a lot of the naysayers wrong with 54 receptions for 717 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Since he is already a good route runner, has strong hands and isn't afraid to go over the middle, all Bennett needs is more targets and he's sure to see his statistics go through the roof.

Like Holt, Bennett doesn't have one characteristic that flies off the page, but he does most everything reasonably well and has earned Cutler's trust.

Johnny Knox

While he spent most of his rookie year at split end because the Bears didn't want to throw too much at him right away, Knox could be a dangerous weapon working out of the slot and might do what Az-Zahir Hakim did in 2000:

53 catches, 734 yards, 13.8 yards per catch, 4 TDs

2000 was Hakim's most productive season as a pro, so Martz must have known how to take advantage of his ability because he was never this good again after leaving St. Louis in 2002. With Bruce and Holt doing so much damage on the outside, not to mention Faulk exploiting linebackers out of the backfield, Hakim was free to roam between the hash marks and had take-it-to-the-house speed after the catch. Not the sharpest at running his routes, Knox wouldn't have to be so precise as a slot man and could still return kickoffs.

Truth be told, Hester would make even more sense in the slot than Knox, but the Bears are still banking on No. 23 being an every-down receiver.

Note: For the purposes of this feature, Greg Olsen was omitted because Martz has never really featured the tight end in his offense, although he surely will now.


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John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.

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