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posted: 7/31/2013 4:53 PM

Big day for Bears' red zone offense

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  • Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, left, has some big options in the red zone with 6-foot-4 wide receiver Brandon Marshall (15) and 6-6 tight end Martellus Bennett (83). He'll also have 6-3 WR Alshon Jeffery to target as well.

      Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, left, has some big options in the red zone with 6-foot-4 wide receiver Brandon Marshall (15) and 6-6 tight end Martellus Bennett (83). He'll also have 6-3 WR Alshon Jeffery to target as well.
    Associated Press

 
 

BOURBONNAIS -- An encouraging glimpse of the Bears' potential on offense was on display during the red-zone portion of 11-on-11 practice Wednesday morning.

In the same sequence, 6-foot-3 wide receiver Alshon Jeffery elevated to snag a high strike from Jay Cutler just underneath the cross bar in the back of the end zone, and the 6-foot-6 tight end Martellus Bennett stretched out to snare another TD just across the goal line.

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"We've got some big dudes out there," Cutler said. "B (6-foot-4 wide receiver Brandon Marshall) and Alshon and Martellus in there, and (6-foot-6 tight end) Fendi (Onobun), those are big guys. You just kind of have to put it up high, and they understand football, which makes it nice."

Because of Cutler's intelligence and experience, coach Marc Trestman expects him to learn the new offense quickly and kick it into high gear.

"We're going to try to get him at his best as we try to move into the rest of training camp and the season," the new coach said. "We would have that expectation, certainly."

The sooner the red zone passing game becomes proficient, the better chance the offense will have of becoming a productive attack and improving upon last year's unit, which ranked 28th in total yards and 29th in passing yards. The Bears were 16th in scoring, but only because they benefited from an NFL-best 10 return touchdowns.

The offense was tied for 22nd in red-zone efficiency last season, scoring touchdowns on just half of its 46 possessions inside the opponent's 20-yard line.

But it seems the Bears may have the talent this season to create some advantageous mismatches near the goal line.

"It's good to have a situation like that where you can throw some fades into the side of the end zone," offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said. "When you have to cover 53 yards (wide) in the end zone, it makes it tough."

Jeffery had 3 touchdowns on 24 catches last season as a rookie, and he 23 TD catches in just three seasons at South Carolina. Marshall had a career-high 11 TD catches for the Bears last season, and Bennett had a personal-best 5 for the New York Giants. Onobun played four years of college basketball at Arizona and had a 37 -inch vertical jump in 2010 at Houston's pro day, where he played his only season of college football.

"We're very lucky," Trestman said. "We thank (general manager) Phil (Emery) every day when we come off the field that he was able to bring in guys with this kind of size and girth, and we're going to do our best to try to put them in a position to have success."

Like every aspect of the passing game, the red-zone attack relies more on Cutler than anyone else. The eighth-year veteran says although he and his offensive teammates are learning a new system and terminology, there is a comfort level. He says there are parallels to the Denver Broncos' offense that helped him to his only Pro Bowl in 2008 while allowing him to be sacked a career-low 11 times despite throwing for career highs of 616 passes and 4,526 yards.

"That's how the offense is built," Cutler said. "It's similar to what we did in Denver. Get back and get it to those guys. I've got a lot of talent on my outside, so the faster we can get it to them and let them work, the better."

There have been lofty expectations and dreams of matches made in heaven between Cutler and his previous offensive coordinators. But the QB has never meshed with any of them, from Ron Turner, to Mike Martz, to Mike Tice.

So far, he speaks highly of the current brain trust.

"They're very smart offensive guys," Cutler said. "They're quarterback friendly, and they want to make it as easy as possible on myself and the other QBs. So it's fun to work with those guys. They understand offense, they understand what we're going through, and they want to put us in a position to be successful."

With the size of its receiving corps, the Bears' offense could become very comfortable in the red zone this season.

The key question is: How long will it take?

Follow Bob's NFL reports on Twitter @BobLeGere, and check out his Bear Essentials blog at dailyherald.com/sports.

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