BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — Jay Christopher Cutler has 10 NFL seasons under his belt now. He has almost 8,000 more passing yards than any other Chicago Bears quarterback in his seven seasons with the team. He’s 10th and 11th among active NFL players in passing touchdowns and yards, respectively. He’s married to a reality TV star who has feverishly rallied the anti-vaccination truther sect.
And yet, do we really know who Cutler is?
Even his former teammates can’t seem to be sure. Brandon Marshall, who has been critical of his former QB in the past, recently said he thinks Cutler is an MVP candidate. Martellus Bennett, traded to the New England Patriots in the offseason, didn’t argue with his brother, Michael, who said Cutler is the “worst quarterback in the league.” Martellus added that Cutler would ignore him and opt to throw into double coverage in their years together with the Bears, which is an interesting criticism for someone who threw his way so often.
Quite the array of reviews in the span of a week. It feels like this sort of thing always follows Cutler. Year in and year out.
“You can’t please everybody,” a smirking Cutler said. “We’re at both ends of the spectrum here. We wish both those guys good luck. I had fun playing with them here, and that’s just kind of how it goes.”
Cutler will sure to tell Martellus Bennett and the Patriots for a few days for joint practices next week in Foxboro, we’re sure.
Then there’s Cutler’s long string of ex-offensive coordinators, from Ron Turner to Mike Martz to Mike Tice to Aaron Kromer and the rest, most of which ended badly. Dowell Loggains, now Cutler’s seventh play caller (counting former head coach Marc Trestman) in seven seasons, was elevated from QB coach this offseason when one of the few guys on that list Cutler actually got along with and played well for — Adam Gase — got a head-coaching job with the Miami Dolphins.
Loggains is hoping to pick up where Gase left off — but that’s a level where few others have reached with the QB.
“We’ve grown together, we’ve grown [in] this offense together, and we’re trying to learn a little bit more,” Loggains said.
Growing is the operative word for a Bears offense that needs a lot of it. Possibly in a hurry, too.
Cutler has his top receiving option, Alshon Jeffery, back in a contract season. That’s a good thing, and they’ve worked well together when Jeffery has been healthy. He left practice early with what the team vaguely described as “muscle tightness” and chalked up to returning to the field after Tuesday’s day off.
Whatever the reason, the Bears and Cutler need Jeffery out there. Questions abound at nearly every other position, and Loggains has his hands full trying to answer all of them.
Fellow receiver Kevin White missed all of last season with an injury, and the 2015 first-round pick had a strong start to camp. But after a few nice plays early in Wednesday’s practice, he was chewed out by the coaches for not finishing a route in the two-minute offense (one that could have been a touchdown) and later he dropped the ball on a clean handoff on an end around in red-zone work.
“I think it was a step back today for us,” Cutler said of the offensive performance in practice. After a few shining moments early in team work, it turned ugly fast. The heat was a possible factor; perhaps, too, the day off Tuesday made them appear more rusty.
Missing still are receiver Eddie Royal and tight end Zach Miller, both in the concussion protocol. Kyle Long, the Bears’ best offensive lineman who is back in his best spot (right guard) after a miscast year at right tackle, just returned to practice Wednesday with a calf injury.
Bobby Massie comes over from the Arizona Cardinals at right tackle. Center and left guard are up for grabs, but undersized Hroniss Grasu (eight NFL starts) and rookie Cody Whitehair appear to be the favorites. Charles Leno (13 starts) appears to be your left tackle. That means it could be five new starters — with Long switching spots —from last season’s Week 1 starting unit. All five would be 27 or younger, too, and they could start the season with a swing tackle (Nick Becton) with zero regular-season snaps on offense in his career.
Who catches passes after Jeffery and White? Gone are Bennett and Matt Forte, who caught a combined 522 passes the past three seasons combined. In 2014, when both played 16 games, they combined for 192 of the 396 receptions (48.4 percent).
Royal and Miller are candidates, and Jeremy Langford could step into Forte’s starting spot but had a lot of drops to go with his 22 receptions as a rookie. Ka’Deem Carey, the other back vying for a starting job, has but eight career catches. The rest of the tight end group is a mixed bag, with the injury-prone Tony Moeaki the most productive.
Is it possible that 2016 seventh-rounder Daniel Braverman, a Danny Amendola clone who has been one of the early stars of camp, is the No. 3 receiver? The slot machine was everywhere on Wednesday again, carving up defenders with his quickness.
“He just keeps making plays,” Bears head coach John Fox said. “You know we’re performance based, and I know it’s just practice. But we try and simulate games as much as we can in practice, and he continues to flash and make plays.” Still, we might need to adjust our expectations accordingly for a 177-pound receiver who has less than 40 college games in the MAC to his name when the games start mattering and the opposite changes.
That same reservation might apply to the entire offense, too. Asked what his team’s offensive identity would be, Loggains said, “Everything we do here is us.” Translation: This might not be a consistent offense or a big-play one, either.
Does that mean even more is on Cutler’s plate this season? Is he equipped to handle the criticism of what could be a slow start while this largely unfamiliar group jells?
The irony here is the Cutler might be the offense’s most steady option and — no joke — even a calming force. As one Bears insider said off to the side Wednesday, “Let’s put it this way: Jay is way down our list of problems.”
It’s even in the way he handled the Bennett criticism, brushing it off with a smile and taking the high road. That might not have happened in the past. And though we don’t really know who Cutler is because he seldom lets us see that much of him, he’s shown himself to be less willing to take the bait on those types of bites — from the media, from ex-teammate critics or from anyone who isn’t trying to help this team win now.
The fiery Loggains, just a few years older than his quarterback, joked that he and Cutler are “a little more similar than I’d like to be,” but it’s possible that Cutler might be able to take a bit of pressure off his new OC this season. After all, Cutler’s production hasn’t been that wildly divergent since 2010 no matter who has been catching his passes or calling his plays. Over that period, Cutler has had six starting left tackles and nine starting right tackles. He hasn’t played a full season in that span, either, but he’s been remarkably — dare we say — reliable when he has been out there.
In an up-and-down day for the offense, Cutler looked as steady as he could. He might a bit of a mystery to some of us, but he could be the Bears’ rock this season. Are you going to put the ball in his hands or in those of a running back unit with a combined eight starts between them?
In this case, the Bears can’t fear what we don’t understand. It might be their greatest strength after all.
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