BOURBONNAIS – The accelerated pace of Bears practices since the arrival of Marc Trestman has made for an interesting story line all offseason. That is, however, not the increased “tempo” that will mean the most in the Bears’ 2013 offense.
The Bears have gone away from reliance on receivers “reading” specific coverages as they come to the line of scrimmage or, more important, come off the line at the snap of the ball.
It may be one of the most important changes installed by Trestman, according to one Hall of Fame pass catcher.
“The mistake that too many offensive coaches make is to teach or allow receivers to read coverages,” Kellen Winslow told CSNChicago.com. “It’s a bad idea. You read your move and trust everybody else to do their jobs.
“Coming off the ball and thinking, ‘This [defensive-back setup] is a rotation,’ I don’t care. All I care about is my piece of it and doing my job. It slows you down if you’re reading or wondering what’s happening on the other side of the field with some safety or whoever.”
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Bears receivers did some coverage-reading under coordinator Mike Tice last season. The problems were that it injected too much thinking into route-running and required quarterback and receiver to read the coverage the same or the play was potentially blown.
Reading coverages and adjusting routes on the fly has been part of successful offenses. But not every receiver is suited for it and refined enough to do it accurately at full speed.
“Not every coach will feel this way but I think it’s very fair what Kellen says,” Trestman said. “We don’t read coverage. We don’t change our routes based on coverage.
“There are teams that do that, where the route is based on everything they see. And they do well with that. But the argument Kellen is making is a very good one.”
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There will must be adjustments if the defense is in a particular alignment vs. the play call. But gone are the intricate adjustments by individual receivers based, for example, on where a defensive back is shading them.
If there is an adjustment to be made, it will be based on the overall defense being displayed.
“Every team has universal routes, even if they don’t read coverages, where they have to make adjustments,” Trestman said. “We line up and we have an assignment, but of course if if they give us something, we have to ‘break’ the routes our we’re going to give the quarterback nothing.”
Better understanding the big picture
Because receivers are not expected to make myriad “sight” adjustments, they are able to focus on the whole and where their route, as called, fits the “concept” of the play.
“[Not having to read coverage] allows you to play faster and also to understand the whole concept of what’s going on offensively,” said wide receiver Earl Bennett. “If you have a route that stays ‘on’ no matter what happens, I’m running my route to either get the ball or to free somebody else up.
“Sometime you look at the coverage and see what’s going on, and understand the whole concept of what we’re trying to do against the defense they’re running. You might tweak your route a little bit but not very much.”
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The Mike Martz offense was often described as simplified for receivers with route numbering. But the scheme created high-risk situations for the offensive line and therefore the quarterback. Receivers may not have been reading coverages but the quarterback was spending too much time “reading” defensive ends because they were in his face or on his back.
Now the receivers have their assignments, quarterback Jay Cutler knows them all and he makes decisions –- fast. The receivers make the concept happen by selling their routes –- hard.
“If unconsciously you know that you’re not going to get the ball, your shoulders come up, which kills the play,” Winslow said. “Because the moment your shoulders come up, that free safety looks someplace else.
“When you’ve got your shoulders down, running your route full speed no matter what the coverage is, maybe one read inside or outside, then it picks up the pace and puts pressure on that safety, who now has to pick somebody, and then your quarterback makes his decision.”