Will Mike Martz be a game-changer for the Bears?

By Doug Halberstadt
Sports Columnist

As a professional football fan, I heard my four favorite words of the summer last week—training camp has started.

I’m sure the majority of the players don’t exactly feel the same way as they begin the two-a-day practices in the heat and humidity.

The Chicago Bears are once again holding practices at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill. Some new faces have joined both the 80-man roster and the coaching staff.

Most notable among the new faces is free agent acquisition Julius Peppers. Bears fans are hoping the 30-year-old defensive end will be part of the recipe for returning the defense back to respectability. Peppers is 6 feet 7 inches, weighs around 290 pounds, and is expected to shore up the defensive line and add pressure to the pass rush.

On the other side of the ball, the Bears are relying more on a sideline coach instead of a suited-up player to help them right the ship for their sputtering offense. The team hired veteran coach Mike Martz as their new offensive coordinator. He joined the team in February.

Martz brings 17 years of NFL coaching experience with him to the Bears. Martz most recently worked as offensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers in 2008. In San Francisco, Martz improved a passing offense that ranked last in the NFL a year earlier to 13th in 2008. The 49ers also improved in total yards per game (32nd to 23rd), yards per play (32nd to 18th) and points per game (32nd to 22nd).

From 2000 to 2005, Martz was head coach of the St. Louis Rams after spending one season as the team’s offensive coordinator (1999). During those seven years with the Rams, Martz helped lead St. Louis to five playoff appearances, four 10-win seasons, three division titles, two Super Bowl appearances and one world championship (Super Bowl XXXIV). As a head coach, Martz compiled a 56-36 (.609) overall record, including the playoffs.

During the 1999 season, the Rams led the NFL in total points, total yards and passing yards after finishing 24th, 27th and 22nd in each respective category a year earlier. St. Louis also ranked fifth in rushing yards per game and second in yards per carry while Martz was offensive coordinator after ranking 29th and 28th in each category, respectively, in 1998. The 526 points the Rams scored during that season are fifth most in NFL history, and the 540 they scored a year later are fourth. Scoring 503 points in 2001, St. Louis became the first team in NFL history to compile at least 500 points in three-straight years. In 2000, the Rams set NFL records with 7,075 total yards and 5,232 net passing yards.

With a balanced attack under Martz, running back Marshall Faulk led the NFL in yards per carry in 1999 (5.5), 2000 (5.4) and 2001 (5.3). During that span, the Rams led the NFL in yards per carry (5.8) and rushing touchdowns (59) and ranked seventh in the league in rushing yards (5,929). 13.5 percent of the Rams’ carries (166 of 1230) from 1999-2001 went for 10-plus yards, tops in the NFL.

Three times from 1999-2001, under the tutelage of Martz, the Rams had two players named NFL Most Valuable Player by the Associated Press: Kurt Warner (1999), Faulk (2000) and Warner (2001). Over that time period, the Rams led the NFL in total offense (20,177 net yards) and scoring (1,569 points).

Warner’s 41 touchdown passes in 1999 are fifth most in NFL history, and his 4,830 passing yards in 2001 are third most. Warner also led the NFL in passing touchdowns (36), completion percentage (68.7) and passer rating (101.4) during the 2001 season.

Faulk set an NFL record with 26 total touchdowns in 2000, which now ranks fourth in NFL single-season history, despite playing in just 14 contests. Faulk’s 2,429 yards from scrimmage in 1999 set an NFL record, which now ranks second in league history. He went on to become just the second player in NFL history to compile 2,000-plus scrimmage yards in three straight season (1999-2001) along with Bears Hall of Famer Walter Payton (1983-85), before the duo was joined by Priest Holmes (Kansas City, 2001-03) and Tiki Barber (New York Giants, 2004-06).

As you can see, Martz’s coaching résumé is quite impressive, and the players seem to love playing for the guy. Let’s hope quarterback Jay Cutler and the rest of the Bears’ offense respond to him in the same way Warner, Faulk and so many others have. If not, it could be another long season for Bears fans.

Now, let’s get training camp and the pre-season done and on to the real games. The Bears open their 2010 season at home against the lowly Detroit Lions Sunday, Sept. 12. That’s only 38 days from today, but who’s counting?

Doug Halberstadt can be reached via e-mail at Dougster61@aol.com.

From the Aug. 4-10, 2010 issue

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