Michael Schofield has a good idea how long it could take before the Bears running game takes off behind their new wide zone blocking scheme.
He has a ring that provides pretty good evidence. It’s not finite and it requires the offensive line to solidify into a unit, first
“It’s hard to say,” said Schofield, the guard from Orland Park who signed on in Chicago as camp was starting. “You never want to say anything is solidified. You don’t know what could happen and when it could happen, but I definitely feel like we’re starting to gel really well right now.
“I feel like that’s a big thing with the wide-zone offense and the offense we have going right now is each practice we’ve gotta get more and more comfortable with how the running backs see it, how we’re seeing it and everyone starts jelling together.”
So how long?
Schofield was part of a wide-zone attack in the past and can use that as a gauge.
“One thing I can bring up is that when I played for Denver, we played in this exact offense,” Schofield said. “It doesn’t click right away. You see in camp, usually the defense gets off a little faster and it happens a little easier for them.
“When I was in Denver, I’ll never forget, even going into probably Week 2 or Week 3, we weren’t running the ball as well. It was our first time running the wide zone offense and then come about Week 4, 5, or 6 it just clicked.”
Actually, it took a bit longer. The 2015 Broncos team with Schofield as a rookie starter averaged 59.7 yards a game rushing for six games. Then, after a bye in week seven, the Broncos led the league on the ground at 115.7 yards a game through the next 13 weeks including the playoffs and Super Bowl win.
“There was like an eight-week period where we were the No. 1 rushing offense,” Schofield said. “I feel like that’s a big thing with this offense. It’s going to take time. The backs have to see it, the O-line has to see it. But once we see it that’s when things start getting special.”
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They finished 17th in rushing after the slow start but there was no doubt the ground game opening up resulted from a better understanding of the wide zone under coach Gary Kubiak and offensive coordinator Rick Dennison with Peyton Manning at quarterback. They won over 150 yards rushing five times in that stretch.
“I think it just became a comfort thing,” Schofield said. “It’s different when we can get into games and we can start cutting on the O-line and start doing that stuff and holes start opening up a little more.
“So I think that took a little while for the backs to be able to see. Once they started seeing us cut and make the cuts on the O-line, then they saw the holes open up and were like ‘OK, this is where it’s going to hit now,’ and they got more comfort with it.”
If the Bears get the running game going, then the passing game in this play-action based attack can flourish.
Unfortunately for the Bears, it’s not a process they can speed up much
“That’s what camp is for, right?” Schofield said. “We got to treat every rep 100 percent. We have to go 100 percent. Make it as game like as possible, so that when the game comes we’re ready.”
It can’t help the process when the Bears are still sorting through various versions of their offensive line to make sure they have the best combination of five blockers.
Linemen are often lining up next to a different player at camp from day to day. When they start with the same players next to each other for successive days, they can start building the cohesive unit to work the wide zone.
“Obviously it’s not like a one day thing,” Schofield said. “You want to be able—it’s hard to put an exact number, but it’s definitely multiple practices, right? Whoever you’re playing next to, especially in a game, you want to get as many of those reps—passing off games in pass protection, working double-teams and run blocking.
“You’ve just gotta get those fits with the guy you’re gonna be playing with.”