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posted: 9/5/2012 9:10 PM

Expections soar, but key still O-line charts

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  • Chicago Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall, top, catches a ball against cornerback Charles Tillman (33) during NFL football training camp at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., Sunday, July 29, 2012.

      Chicago Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall, top, catches a ball against cornerback Charles Tillman (33) during NFL football training camp at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., Sunday, July 29, 2012.

 
 

Even normally laid-back quarterback Jay Cutler seems to be geeked up about the possibilities for the Bears' offense this season.

"We've got some guys that can play football on the outside -- there's no doubt about that," Cutler said, in what amounts to unbridled enthusiasm for him. "Hopefully, it's going to make my job easier just being able to get them the ball and let them work."

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Adding big, talented wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery to Devin Hester and Earl Bennett gives Cutler a much deeper and more talented cache of weapons than he had in his previous three years with the Bears. And Matt Forte and Michael Bush should be the Bears' most impressive ground combo in recent memory.

But all their fates rest with an offensive line that can ignite or undermine the explosiveness at the skill positions.

"Up front, I think the guys know there is some pressure on them because Matt Forte can run if we give him holes, and if I get the guys the ball on the outside and we hold up and have time, we can make some big plays," Cutler said. "It's going to be fun to watch."

Not if Cutler winds up watching from his back.

He's been sacked 110 times as a Bear, more than any NFL quarterback over the past three seasons. But his hopes are buoyed by the fact that he was not sacked once in the preseason.

"We can only do as much as they can handle," he said of his protection.

"If they can only block three-step drops, we can only throw three-step passes. We're limited to what they can do.

"As of now, they've been holding up really well, so we've been able to open up our playbook and be a little bit creative in how we design plays."

The presence of the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Marshall will do more to open up the playbook than anyone, and the possibilities have driven expectations through the roof. Considering Marshall's five-year averages of 95 catches and 1,188 yards, at least some of the hype is justified.

"That's big talk," Marshall says when the Super Bowl is mentioned. "I don't think anyone puts more pressure or has higher expectations on themselves than me. That's just the way I prepare myself. That's how I've always been, since I was a young, little boy, and that's not going to change.

"I expect to be the best. I expect to be on the best team, and hopefully we take a step forward this week and get it done and move closer to our goal."

The last time Marshall faced the Colts, as a member of the Broncos in 2009, he caught an NFL-record 21 passes for 200 yards.

But there will be times when opponents successfully remove Marshall from the offense by overcompensating to limit his effectiveness, and this week could be one of those times.

"We've talked about it. He knows it's a possibility," Cutler said. "I think it's more than a possibility. It is going to happen (at times). So, he's going to have to be a decoy for us.

"He's going to have to keep running his routes on the back side no matter if there is one guy or two guys on him. He understands that."

It's something Marshall has dealt with the past five years.

"Every year I see more and more (double) coverage -- especially the past two years," Marshall said.

"There's no coverage out there that I haven't seen. I'm prepared.

"The good thing about being here is we have Alshon Jeffery, Earl Bennett, and we haven't even gotten to the backfield yet. It would be really hard for teams to really stop us with the guys that we have in the locker room."

Marshall might be the ultimate weapon, but he's not the only one.

"That's one weapon that we have," said offensive coordinator Mike Tice, the guy calling the plays.

"We have a lot of weapons, and we're going to make sure that we're going to the weapons that have the best chance of winning.

"That's the way we're going to play offense the whole season, and it's going to change from week to week, from quarter to quarter, from series to series. That's how it's going to be."

rlegere@dailyherald.com

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