Chicago Bears training camp: Marc Trestman keeps it weird

Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

The Bears are back with a distinct new look under first-time head coach Marc Trestman, but will the team's proud veterans be receptive to the drastic change in style?

There is a very specific archetype for the style of head coach romanticized in Chicago. You can start with a mustache -- they all have a mustache -- and work your way down. Intensity is the first real qualifier. The coach must be a man who would scream profanities at his own small child if it would get the kid to stay in his gap defensively. The coach must bring the leadership qualities of an army general. He must be someone blessed with the fortitude to defeat a hurricane ... even if said hurricane is named after himself.

Twenty-seven years after leading the Chicago Bears to the franchise's only Super Bowl victory, Mike Ditka remains the gold standard to many for what a coach should look like in this city. If you don't fit the archetype, it's only a matter of time before sports talk radio lines start filling up with callers drunk on the ever-fading nostalgia of the '85 Bears.

What, then, will Chicago think of Marc Trestman?

Sunday marked the first time the Bears put on pads in the training camp debut of the team's new coach, but physicality was far from an emphasis. Forget blood, sweat and tears; the only thing that covered the Bourbonnais practice fields were exercise balls. The curse-'em-out approach has been replaced by widespread positive reinforcement. The guy who's supposed to inspire these men to go to war for the betterment of Chicago's civic pride thinks and speaks more like a college professor.

Everything about the hiring of Marc Trestman seemed weird, though, so perhaps it's no surprise Sunday featured some things few have ever seen on a football field. The Bears' sprawling head coaching search that followed the dismissal of Lovie Smith led general manager Phil Emery to a man who had been out of the NFL for a decade. Trestman became the first coach to jump from the CFL to the big leagues since 1982, and was pegged for representing everything Smith wasn't.

To listen to Marc Trestman speak is to hear words like "interconnectivity" and "assimilation."


Smith was a fine head coach in his nine seasons in Chicago and there's a real chance the Bears did themselves a disservice by replacing him with Trestman. The Bears are banking on a seismic shift in philosophies to fix the same shortcomings that have seemed to plague the franchise for the entirety of its existence.

Smith's Cover-2 was safe, effective and sustainable. While the defense was perennially one of the league's top units, though, the offense was always lagging far behind. A new quarterback was supposed to fix this when the Bears traded for Jay Cutler in 2009. It didn't. A new star wide receiver was supposed to fix it when the Bears traded for Brandon Marshall before last season. It didn't. So now the onus falls on Trestman, the man hand-picked to finally put an end to the Bears' generational offensive woes.

For as much as football perseveres as our most gut-wrenchingly physical sport, it's also the one where tactical genius matters the most. In the last year, the read-option has taken the NFL by storm, forcing defensive coordinators to go back to college to find answers on how to stop it. Don't expect Cutler to play like Russell Wilson or Colin Kaepernick this season, but the idea of offensive innovation was at the heart of the Trestman hire.

There should be little doubt Trestman has the ability to draw up and call plays effectively. The larger, more abstract question is whether his demeanor will translate to a veteran-laden group who loved playing for Lovie.

Smith was a smart person, but a man of few words. The Texas-twanged tone of his flat voice left him ripe for parody. The words will echo through the heads of Bears fans forever. "Rex is our quarterback." "Kyle is our quarterback."

It's been replaced by a man who has spent his time in Chicago so far preaching the value of "self-actualization." Do you think Ditka could even define the term? It's perhaps the biggest buzzword for Trestman so far, but it doesn't stop there. While Smith hated the local media, Trestman embraces reporters, sometimes giving the feel that he's attempting to teach them a thing or two about football. To listen to Marc Trestman speak is to hear words like "interconnectivity" and "assimilation."

His main point of emphasis so far might be offensive tempo. During a practice this weekend, Trestman spat out “It’s not a symposium. Get the play going!” as Cutler and the Bears' offense were taking their sweet time getting to the line.

It's a new day for the Bears, but one that likely won't be without its growing pains. From the conditioning test Trestman would only deem an "accountability drill" to the offense's new-found attention to verbiage and detail, it's clear there's going to be plenty different about the Bears this season.

Without Smith and Brian Urlacher, this Bears team should feel like a team in transition. Problem is, the roster is still loaded with proud veterans who had the team off to a 7-1 start last season before the injury bug bit and the wheels fell off. These Bears are loaded with key personnel entering their final season under contract -- Cutler included -- and the willingness of the veterans to pick up Trestman's schemes and philosophies will go a long ways towards dictating the team's future.

Yes that was Robbie Gould dribbling an exercise ball around the practice field on Sunday, yes that was the head coach of the Bears asking reporters how their day was going and yes, that was the look of a team more concerned with grasping the playbook than knocking the snot out of each other.

Much has changed for the Bears. They're banking on that being a good thing.

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