BOURBONNAIS – A half step separated an incompletion from a 20-yard reception Tuesday.
During seven-on-seven drills at Olivet Nazarene University, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler stood in the pocket as his receivers sprinted downfield. Players wore shorts and shoulder pads during the non-contact practice, which marked the fourth session of training camp.
Three seconds later, Cutler fired a pass toward a target.
Bears wide receiver Earl Bennett ran a crossing pattern and was a half step in front of the target. Or maybe Cutler’s pass was a half step behind the target.
Regardless, the end result was the same.
The timing was off, and Bears safety Major Wright stepped in to break up the play.
After a 136-day NFL lockout, when will the offense’s timing be back to normal?
“It’ll be there pretty soon,” said Bennett, who also was college teammates with Cutler at Vanderbilt. “Pretty soon. We’re just cleaning up a few things, and then we’ll be all right.”
When it comes to Mike Martz’s passing offense, timing is everything.
Former St. Louis Rams quarterback Kurt Warner enjoyed a history-making career because of his ability to throw a ball to a precise spot on the field. Ex-Rams receivers Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt polished their resumes for the Pro Football Hall of Fame by running exactly to those spots.
But show up too soon or too late for an intended pass, and risk an ugly interception.
Cutler did what he could to preserve the Bears’ timing during a lengthy lockout. He organized workouts in which receivers ran routes and caught passes as if they were practicing at ONU.
“We met with the guys in May and June, up until July,” Cutler said. “We were doing a lot of seven-on-seven [drills], a lot of routes, just getting everyone refreshed with the playbook again. Because with the time off, it’s hard for us to go from January all the way to August and just click like that.”
It’s still not clicking perfectly, but each practice offers an opportunity to improve.
The Bears have 11 days until their preseason opener Aug. 13 against the Buffalo Bills and 41 days until their regular-season opener Sept. 11 against the Atlanta Falcons.
By then, players said, they should be fully prepared for Year 2 of Martz’s offense.
“During our time off, we did go out there and run routes and try to pick up on things,” Bears wide receiver Johnny Knox said. “But it’s still not the same as being out here. As of right now, we’re just trying to get that timing back. We’re knocking off the rust a little bit.”
Martz has confidence that the rust will be long gone by the time the season starts.
The No. 1 reason for Martz’s confidence is Cutler, whom he praised for his footwork and technique. Cutler threw 23 touchdown passes and 16 interceptions last season in his first year under Martz.
“The precision is always going to be [on] the quarterback, and the receivers should adapt and get to the point that they’re where they’re supposed to be when they’re supposed to be there,” Martz said. “When that happens, it happens. That’s just a discipline issue.
“When you get your guys that you know are going to play, it’s not hard to get them into a disciplined environment and get them going. Getting the quarterback to that [point] is a building process, and Jay is there.”
That’s a half step in the right direction.