Wednesday, September 20, 2006

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

As Marc Bulger continues to look for the consistency and rhythm in the passing game that made him one of the leagueís most statistically decorated quarterbacks in his first three years as a starter, he has realized that he can longer look at whatís happened.

Instead, Bulger has come to the realization that he can only focus on the future and how he can get a better handle on grasping the new system installed by Coach Scott Linehan.

A full grasp of that system has yet to come to Bulger as he has struggled at times in the first pair of regular season games. For a player who has made it look so easy at times in the past few years, that has been a difficult adjustment.

ďItís tough, especially when you know what you have been able to do,Ē Bulger said. ďBut you canít live in the past. You have to move on and just know that this is new and you have to learn this and be patient and itís not going to come all at once. Itís not easy, but we have to deal with it. Thereís no sense in forcing it or giving up now. We have to fight through.Ē

Perhaps no player on any football team will have the constant scrutiny of the starting quarterback. Itís his job to know not only his tasks on every play, but also to know the whereabouts of every player on every play and have the ability to identify the opposing defensive scheme.

With a new system comes new terminology, but it also brings a new philosophy. Things in the Mike Martz era were freewheeling and potent. And Bulger fit in to that scheme as well as anyone. Although he didnít have as much freedom to audible or do many of the things that many quarterbacks around the league can, there was always some built in rules and regulations to help Bulger if he identified something in the defense.

Those rules allowed Bulger to go to a fallback plan in the play and have ways to get out of trouble. Bulger says he probably never would have had a full grasp of Martzís offense and he knows it wonít happen overnight in Linehanís less complex system, either.

One player who knows all about adjusting to a new system is the man who showed Bulger the NFL ropes, Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner. Warner has kept in touch with Bulger since he left for New York two years ago.

Warner has since bounced from New York to Arizona where he is settling in as the teamís starter. He and Bulger talk about once every three or four weeks and Warner has offered Bulger advice on being patient with the adjustment to Linehanís system.

ďWe actually talk quite a bit,Ē Warner said. ďI actually talked to him just last week. He did tell me he is working through it. It is a work in progress, but he is working to get to that point where it is second nature to him. After being where he was with Mike (Martz) and that type of philosophy, that type of offense, this is definitely an adjustment, which is no surprise to anybody. He wants to get to the point where he can play the way Marc Bulger plays and not have to think and second-guess and worry about certain things and play with the talents and gifts that heís got. That is what he is working through now.Ē

In two games, Bulger is 37-of-68 for 402 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. Those numbers clearly arenít terrible, but they are far from the standard Bulger has set in his first few seasons.

A big part of that downgrade statistically comes from a more ball control oriented offense that has running back Steven Jackson as the leagueís third-leading rusher. In years past, Bulger might try to force a ball into a tight spot. Now, he is working on throwing the ball away and doing his best to not turn the ball over.

Thatís a big adjustment for someone used to flinging the ball all over the field.

ďIíve said it before; heís done everything I have asked of him,Ē Linehan said. ďHe manages the game, he protects the ball, he understands what we want to get out of the running game.

ďWe have to work on improving our efficiency in the passing game, which will come. I believe that. Thatís what Marc believes. Heís accepted everything we have asked him. To answer your question, yes. But, weíre all perfectionists. We all want to be better, and we need to be. Weíll all continue working on getting better everyday.Ē

Never one to worry much about personal accolades, Bulger insists that he could care less what his statistics are at the end of the day. Bulger has only ever worried about the numbers that go in the wins and loss column.

But there is one statistic that Bulger would like to see improve.

ďI really donít worry about numbers,Ē Bulger said. ďI know whatís happened in the past. But I definitely want to get my completion percentage up; thatís the one I am disappointed in. Something I can control is completion percentage and I do want to get that up.Ē

The fact that Bulger is completing just 54 percent of his passes is probably the most surprising of his dipping statistics. Entering the season, Bulger had been one of the most accurate passers in the league at 65 percent. If nothing else, the one thing that people could count on was the ball being in the right place at the right time.

The reason for that drop in accuracy has been a product of both the adjustment to the new system as well as some misfires and miscommunications between Bulger and his receivers.

Bulger has been given the freedom to audible at the line of scrimmage where in the old system he could only make sight adjustments at the line. So far, he hasnít taken advantage of the audible and truly gotten the offense out of a play. Rather, Bulger has made some route adjustments.

Thatís one area where some miscommunications have come in. For instance, on one play during Sundayís game, Bulger checked with receiver Torry Holt to have him run a go route. Holt didnít get the memo and ran a deep in as the ball sailed a good 20 yards over his head.

ďItís not one of the major things,Ē Bulger said. ďWe had a couple of miscommunications with those. Youíre going to have that and itís one of those things that will come over time. Things on the offense will take time, itís tough. You need all 11 guys on the offense to do the same thing at one time and if one guys messes up, in football itís not going to work. Whether itís me messing up or someone else.Ē