Adam L. Jahns’ “Inside the Huddle” column appears in game-day editions of the Chicago Sun-Times.
The Bears don’t have receiver Brandon Marshall around anymore to make and distribute “Bunker Down” T-shirts at Halas Hall. But the outside “noise” around the team that irked Marshall so much seems to be back. And Marshall’s old friend, quarterback Jay Cutler, is at the center of it, locally and nationally.
Coach John Fox has given mixed messages about Cutler and the Bears’ quarterback situation, leaving Cutler to answer questions as if it’s the Marc Trestman era again — and confusing an already discouraged fan base.
But if Monday night’s game against the Minnesota Vikings — Cutler’s first start since Week 2, when he sprained ligaments in his throwing thumb — is truly the beginning of his last stand, he’ll be making it with his Bears teammates in mind.
“Got great guys in my [quarterbacks] room, got great guys in the locker room. That’s just what you rally around,” Cutler said. “That’s what you build for — those relationships. That’s kind of where I’m at.”
Players on losing teams often search aimlessly for stock answers and positives when a season is overloaded with negatives, but the Bears’ locker room seems cheerful, even exuberant that Cutler will be under center against the Vikings’ top-rated defense.
“We rally behind that guy really well,” tackle Charles Leno Jr. said.
“It’s good to have your guy back out there,” tight end Zach Miller added.
“Jay’s my guy,” receiver Alshon Jeffery said. “I’m excited. I’m looking forward to it.”
From the outside, the season looks lost, with fans already clamoring for the highest draft pick possible. But with nine games left, the players want to win. They believe Cutler doesn’t just boost morale but also makes them more competitive.
“[Backup] Brian [Hoyer] played great — no disrespect — but it’s like we got new life with No. 6 coming back,” linebacker Pernell McPhee said. “Hopefully, mentally, we can just take it on the field Monday, and we can show we got new life.”
McPhee, who returned in Week 7 against the Green Bay Packers after his own injury, said he told Cutler he needs him.
“I just feel like with Jay coming back — and me coming back — that gave us new life,” McPhee said. “We get this and go into the bye week and go to Tampa and get this thing on a roll.”
Cutler takes over an offense that has evolved since he last played. It starts with offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains’ better understanding of his players. He said an identity was forged over a four-week stretch as the line established a strong run game behind rookie back Jordan Howard. The line also protected Hoyer well as play-action rollouts, quick throws and screens became staples of Loggains’ attack.
Injuries have changed some aspects of the offense. But young players such as Howard, center Cody Whitehair and receiver Cameron Meredith also have emerged.
“[Cutler is] coming into an offense now where people understand the system a little bit better,” Loggains said. “Good quarterback play comes down to the other 10 guys doing their job. Hopefully at this point, we’re better off than we were Week 1, when we had a lot of moving parts, and Week 2, when Jay was playing.”
Loggains connected with Hoyer, but he’s clear about where he stands on Cutler.
“He’s our starting quarterback, so he was missed every week that he didn’t play,” Loggains said. “Brian did a nice job stepping in and filling that role, but there’s nothing like having your starter out there at any position.”
Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said determining which running back to turn to in games can leave one back “a victim of circumstance.” Sometimes the offensive line simply blocks better on certain possessions.
But determining that “hot hand” especially with Jeremy Langford re-joining Jordan Howard and Ka’Deem Carey comes down to the extra yardage that backs earn.
“If a play is blocked well, [it’s] what you do after — the yards you get after what it’s blocked for is what makes you a good back or not,” Loggains said.
Carey did that better than Howard in Week 7 against the Packers, which could lead to a similar scenario on Monday night. The Vikings and Packers have two of the best run defenses in the league.
“He was a little bit of change of pace,” Loggains said. “Jordan is a bigger back. Ka’Deem has got some more short-area quickness. And at that time last week, Ka’Deem’s short-area quickness helped us.”
The Bears are overdue for a spark on special teams, and it’s been a so-so season thus far for kick returner Deonte Thompson.
According to ESPN’s statistics for qualified returners, Thompson ranks 14th with a 21.2 yards per return average, while his long of 32 is tied for 27th.
To compare, former Bears returner/receiver Marc Mariani is averaging 22.9 yards per return for the Titans. He’s had a long 33 yards.
Special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers said half of Thompson’s 14 returns were not been blocked well enough.
“He’s done what we’ve asked him to do a majority of the time,” Rodgers said. “There’s been three plays in the last four weeks. where it’s been like, ‘Man, if we could’ve just held onto that block a split second later, his numbers would spike pretty good.’
“We like what Deonte has done. His decision-making has been good. His ball security has been good. Obviously, the production isn’t at the level where it was a year ago, but there is more that has gone into that than just him.”
The Bears’ decision to promote defensive back Demontre Hurst to the active roster and waive cornerback Jacoby Glenn doesn’t mean they’re giving up on Glenn.
With cornerback Bryce Callahan having a bothersome hamstring, the Bears are thin at nickel back behind Cre’Von LeBlanc. Hurst has experience at nickel back; Glenn, a second-year cornerback who was immediately re-signed to the practice squad, does not. When healthy, Callahan starts at cornerback, but he also was the top nickel back last season.
“Hurst gives us some flexibility,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said.
Glenn, a starter at cornerback in the first three games, was brought back to the practice squad.
“Jacoby’s had a tough go of it here lately,” Fangio said. “He’s gotta be able to come back, get on the practice field, play a little better, and when the next opportunity comes up, be ready for it.”
198 – The net passing yards Vikings’ defense is allowing per game this season, the fourth-best mark in the league.
100.3 – Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford’s passer rating. His previous career-best rating was 90.9 in 2013 for the Rams.
85.7 – The percentage of fourth downs (6-for-7) that teams are converting against the Bears, which is the worst in the league.