There’s more than the steamy weather outside putting sweat on the brow of the Chicago Bears QB Jay Cutler. Now that the official start of Camp Trestman is right around the corner, it soon will be time to find out just exactly what the Bears’ enigma can do in the new and (hopefully) improved offense.
Let's hope there's more than the outside heat to get Bears fans fired up this season.
While Cutler may still be lacking a full complement of proven, high quality wideouts, there is reason for optimism. The offensive line is shaping up to be much improved, and the emergence of a coach in Trestman who has the reputation of being a QB guru of sorts should help smooth over Cutler's mechanics and finally allow him to reach his potential.
For as much as Jay has already accomplished as an NFL QB, there is always that gnawing feeling that there should be more — perhaps much more. Ever since Cutler arrived in Chicago, there was always talk that "if only he had time to throw ... if only he had talent around him ... if only." Well, "if only" is as close to being here as it has ever been for Cutler in Chicago.
To be clear, things aren't perfect. The aforementioned lack of proven quality at the wide receiver position should offer at least a bit of concern for Cutler and Bears fans. Even the only sure thing, Brandon Marshall, is coming off of a hip scope in January, though he is not expected to be limited during the season.
Meanwhile, just who will Cutler look to when under pressure as his other safety valve outside of his former Broncos teammate? There may be a lot we don’t know about Trestman yet, but one thing seems clear: he does not want Marshall to be targeted 39.9% of the time, which easily topped the NFL charts last season. So, the answer to that question seems to be based more on ball distribution and getting the tight ends into the game plan than on having any additional Pro Bowl options for Jay to throw to.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Very few NFL teams have multiple stars at wide receiver and at least the Bears have one in Marshall. There is also the hope that second-year wideout Alshon Jeffery will take the next step in his development, though it would be foolish to automatically expect him to perform without some struggles this season, as he is still young and learning the game.
But we’ve watched as Cutler has had to endure awful pass blocking and too little talent around him. And the game plans haven’t exactly been a revelation either. So it would be logical to figure that if those things get better, so will Jay.
Playing the devil’s advocate, however, this is yet another offensive system for Cutler to learn. Then there is also the inherent pressure of it being a contract year for the Bears’ QB. The misguided folks who question his toughness and desire will be out for blood if Cutler struggles this season.
There’s no denying the talent that Cutler possesses. Still, his critics do have a point when they refer to his holding onto the ball too long and his propensity to trust his strong arm too much, resulting in some questionable decisions on the field.
Add to that the fact that he will be in a system which rewards quick decisions and short, crisp passes and it's not difficult to understand that the pressures on Cutler are compounded. The west coast offense is not exactly suited to a passer like Jay, so he will need to adjust if he is going to find success and be the guy going forward.
But speaking of being “the guy,” all Cutler has to do is look toward Baltimore and see what the future could hold for him if he rolls a seven or 11 this season. We all saw how Ravens’ QB Joe Flacco parlayed a Super Bowl title into one of the richest contracts in NFL history.
To be sure, Cutler will get paid no matter what. Matthew Stafford recently received an extension worth $15.3 million per season in Detroit, and his mechanics are worse than Cutler’s. But this may be Jay’s last shot at breaking the bank, so to speak, and with Emery wisely deciding to wait to determine whether to lock up his QB, the payoff could be huge if he has a great season.
Cutler is 30 and a father now. He appears to be more focused and mature than ever. The line is better, he has an honest-to-goodness tight end and a coach who will call plays that will get Matt Forte and others involved in the short to mid-range passing game. I don't expect Marshall to catch 118 balls again this season. And that's a good thing.
As the AT&T kids commercials remind us, it's not complicated; for Cutler to succeed he needs to be upright. Over the past four years he has been sacked more than a bag of groceries. 148 times the man has landed on his backside, the third-highest total in the NFL over that period. If that continues, nothing else will matter.
So yes, the heat is on. Let’s just hope it isn’t Bears fans who get burned.
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