When Dennis Green took over as head coach of the Minnesota Vikings in 1992, his task was to reverse a sliding franchise with elite talent but which had posted 6-10 and 8-8 records under Jerry Burns the previous two seasons.
Green began the cultural makeover in preseason, running out to a 4-0 with a 140-6 scoring edge on the so-called “meaningless” opponents, with winning margins of 21, 30, 53 and 30 points.
It was the first undefeated preseason for the Vikings since 1973 (5-0), from which they went 12-2 and to a Super Bowl. Green’s play-to-win 4-0 preseason flowed into an 11-5 year of winning the then-NFC Central division.
Marc Trestman will go the opposite direction, playing his starters sparingly to open the preseason at Carolina. The statement is that he is trusting in the remainder of training camp and the preseason to be a sufficient crucible for fashioning a team ready to start fast against two wild-card playoff teams (Cincinnati, Minnesota) to open the regular season.
“I would not expect our starters to play very long, and we’ll start pulling them out some time in the first quarter,” Trestman said. “And we’ll allow the guys competing for positions, certainly special-teams positions, which is critically important to get on the field and see how they work, see how they tackle, see how they play, obviously for the first time in a real game in a real football environment.”
Trestman is not in the position that Green was. He has taken over a veteran team coming off a 10-6 season and which has won 28 games over the past two seasons. The Bears team has been .500 or better in six of the last eight seasons.
The culture change is from Lovie Smith to Trestman, from a defense-based head coach to one with an offensive starting point. The defense has not changed appreciably from Smith/Rod Marinelli to Mel Tucker, but the offense is settling into some new rhythms with new starters in four of the five line positions plus a new tight end and operating system.
“Just getting in and out of the huddle, make sure everyone has their assignment down and just run the plays like they’re drawn up,” quarterback Jay Cutler said of the goals on Friday. “It will be good to get out there with this group and hear the calls in my helmet and just go through the process.”