By Laurence Holmes-
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. (WSCR) — During practices, you can see Mike Martz stalking the practice field making sure that offensive players are in the right spot on time. He checks for everything from the form of how a lineman is blocking to the depth of a receiver’s route. Martz will often stop practice to take time and individually coach a player to correct any missteps. It’s all in an attempt to bring the classroom to the practice field.
Precision and timing is the backbone of what the Bears want to accomplish on offense. Under Mike Martz, Bears players are responsible for the retention of over 400 plays, out of a number of different formations.
“It’s important that they not only know what to do, but why we do it,” Martz said. “I’ve always felt like, you like to get them out and let them walk through it and explain to them and slow things down and show them how to respond in certain situations.”
Most of the time coordinators are focused on the overall picture, leaving the individual coaching to position coaches. Martz let’s his assistants work, but he has no problem stepping in and trying to perfect technique in any area he deems necessary. For most of the players, the attention to detail by Martz is more intimate than what they’ve seen from other coordinators in college or the pros.
“Coach Martz is a more advanced coordinator. This is basically his playbook. He designed these plays,” Devin Hester said. “He knows the in-and-outs of these plays. That’s why he walks through them every now and then and go through the route and show you what he means because one step could mess the whole play up.”
Roy Williams played for Martz in Detroit a few years ago. It’s a big reason that Williams wanted to play in Chicago. He appreciated Martz’s depth of knowledge of the system and ability to teach it.
“In all of my years playing football from Pop Warner, to NFL level, he’s the only coach that I learned the game under,” Williams said. “One thing that Coach Martz does is teach you the game of football and that’s why he walks through things to make you understand why he’s doing the things that he does.”
LISTEN: Roy Williams with Dan Bernstein and Laurence Holmes
The amount of information that a player has to digest is so vast that a new guy might need a few weeks to catch up. Chris Spencer has been in camp for over two weeks and he’s still trying to pick up the nuances.
“It’s a lot different from what I’m used to,” Spencer said. “The language is completely different and the way it’s spoken, it’s so much different from what you’re used to.”
That’s why Martz makes it a point when he sees something he doesn’t like to stop the practice and walk it through with the player. His coaching range goes from giving guys a pat on the back, to a kick in the butt. All in an attempt to get players versed in a complicated system.
“Not only is the playbook hard, but he puts stress on you by calling you every name in the book and just being hard on you, coaching-wise, to put stress on you to see if you can handle the stress in stressful situations,” Williams said.
That means total recall. Martz may make a play-call in Week 9 that the team has practiced since camp. Each player is responsible for knowing what the play is and how the play is run.
Martz also makes the point that players need to be selfless. Body language is key. So if the play isn’t designed for you, you still have to sell it as if it is. You don’t want to give a defensive player a “tell”. Martz pays close attention to that aspect of practice too.
“He’s showing you the bigger picture of the way that the play is designed and why you have to do this. Sometimes this play might not be meant for you, but the way you run your routes might open it up for the next person,” Hester said.
With Martz, it’s all about the details. So there is tremendous value in taking an extra minute in practice for these teaching moments. Ideally, it pays off with players being prepared when the games count.
“Ultimately when the season gets going, you can try and prepare them for as much as you can, but there are going to be things that come up that they gotta make a decision on and if they got the right information and understand why they’re doing things, they’ll make the right decision,” Martz said.
For more Bears coverage, be sure to follow Laurence Holmes on Twitter (@LHolmes670).