As important as installation of his offensive system is for the Bears under first-year coach Marc Trestman, of almost equal significance is the creation of a new culture within a team that is coming off of nine generally positive years under the ways of Lovie Smith.
That latter process is clearly already in process. In myriad areas within the organization.
Some are small things. Within the Halas Hall locker room, locker spaces no longer are segregated into position groups and with the offense on one side of the room and defense on the other, with special teams. Trestman wants more, however.
“I try to challenge them all the time to find someone today that you don’t know and shake his hand and find out where he’s from and what he’s all about,” Trestman said. “Twenty years from now you could be sitting at dinner with your wives and you could be the Godfather for his child.
“You just don’t know how this thing is going to sort itself out. Football is certainly an enormous part of it, but it is part of the process of team-building.”
General Manager Phil Emery created an element of changed culture when he announced Wednesday that there would be no in-season extensions for players in the final years of their contracts (Jay Cutler, Charles Tillman, Roberto Garza, others) or on one-year contracts (Henry Melton, D.J. Williams, Matt Slauson, others.)
That stoke essentially put Cutler right in with a long list of players who now can play the season without wondering who’s being talked to by management about an extension and why they might not be. Everyone is in a remarkably similar situation.
But Trestman has extended the “culture installation” to include even things such as Thursday’s conditioning test in which players are required to complete three 100-yard shuttle runs (goal line to 50 and back) within a specified time and with a set rest interval.
That will give a look at who is in shape and who isn’t. And it has another element in Trestman’s thinking.
“I don’t even look at it as a test,” Trestman said. “I look at it as an ‘accountability exercise' ... We’re not trying to run anybody off or wear anybody down. It’s a minimalized test where everybody can see everybody out there for the day and see everybody running and see what kind of condition they’re in. And we’re giving the players a chance to see each other and the kind of commitment that they’ve made over the summertime.”
The locker room lost Brian Urlacher this offseason. It saw the departure of Olin Kreutz before the 2011 season. Smith is gone. So is line coach and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli as well as most of the previous coaching staff.
In their place the emergence of new leaders is crucial and will further change the culture from what it was for much of the past dozen years under veterans like Kreutz and Urlacher, both team captains in their tenures.
“I will say one thing without reservation: Do not underestimate the leadership on this team,” Emery said. “When I see players like Julius Peppers during OTAs turn and run Matt Forte down after a 40-yard sprint, that to me speaks of leadership. It’s a quiet leadership, but it sets an example and it sets a tone for the rest of the team.”
Wide receiver Brandon Marshall began assuming a leadership role last offseason and is intent on building on that.
“I think coach Trestman is big on team building,” Marshall said. “But I’ve been on a few different teams, a few different coaching staffs. When I came into last year [the camaraderie] was already there. So I don’t think coach Trestman has to worry about that too much. I really like the things he’s implementing to bring us together even more. But this locker room is so close.”