Asked about Kyle Long last week, Bears offensive line coach Dave Magazu casually mentioned the three-time Pro Bowler has more to learn.
“We’ve changed offensively,” he said.
“You gotta watch the tape,” he said.
Game film is four months away, but the Bears’ offense will continue to evolve during organized team activities this week.
Here are three changes to watch:
New receivers coach Curtis Johnson expects the Bears to try more deep passes this season — and not just because Alshon Jeffery and Kevin White will be healthy.
Though it helps.
“Look, I love (Jay) Cutler, how he throws the ball now,” he said. “He has a very, very strong arm. He has great timing with guys. And then you’ve got two guys who can run, and they’re big.”
Cutler’s 63.4 quarterback rating on attempts of 20 yards or more was 24th out of 36 quarterbacks last year, per Pro Football Focus. In 2014 — with a healthy Jeffery playing opposite Brandon Marshall — Cutler’s passer rating on deep balls was 91.2.
The Bears’ two longest plays didn’t even qualify last year. Tight end Zach Miller’s 87-yard touchdown reception in St. Louis was a two-yard pass followed by and 85-yard gallop, while Jeremy Langford’s 83-yard screen touchdown in the same game was caught five yards behind the line of scrimmage.
Expect the Bears to go deep more often, and with more success.
“Alshon can really track it over the top of his head, and Kevin can run and track it,” Johnson said.
In the zone
New offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said the “shell of the offense will stay the same” as it was under Adam Gase, and with good reason: the Bears value the continuity their former quarterbacks coach brings to the offense.
Still, don’t be surprised to see the Bears running more zone blocking schemes, an approach Loggains embraced as the Titans’ coordinator.
One reason the Bears cut Matt Slauson and drafted his presumptive replacement, left guard Cody Whitehair, was to increase the line’s athleticism — and its ability to block linebackers. Long’s return to right guard will help, too.
“It’s, get to the second level and produce at the second level,” Magazu said. “We can beat guys up, up front. But it doesn’t matter if you beat the hell out of the four down guys and the backer’s standing there and nobody can get to him.”
Whitehair fits the team’s approach.
“He’s got a really strong lower body,” Loggains said, “so he can get to the second level.”
Jordan Howard averaged 134.8 rushing yards at up-tempo Indiana. Imagine what he can do when he catches his breath in the huddle first.
“I think it helps a power runner out more,” he said, “because it gives them the opportunity to catch their wind and stamina each play.”
Running backs coach Stan Drayton said the Bears “wanted to bring some power to the offense, a guy that can play past contact.” Howard can do that as part of the trio —Langford and Ka’Deem Carey are the others — replacing Matt Forte.
Only five teams tried more rushes than the Bears did last season, yet only 12 teams averaged fewer yards than the team’s 4 per carry.
Consider Howard a sign of the Bears’ new attitude.
“It’s about the power that he brings. … ” Drayton said. “ It’s going to be a matter of how much we can put on his plate in his rookie year, how much he can recall and play fast with it on game day and then we’ll accelerate into a role for him right here.
“But we’re very excited about the skill set that he does bring to the table. But he is a power runner, which makes him different than everybody else in that room.”