Don’t count Jay Cutler out yet.
Refuting published reports, Bears coach John Fox said Cutler’s labrum injury is “not season ending” and the Bears’ quarterback still has a chance to play Sunday against the Tennessee Titans.
Cutler did not practice Wednesday. And though it is presumed that back-up Matt Barkley will start Sunday — the team arranged a Barkley interview in the Bears’ locker room Wednesday — Fox insists Cutler has a chance to start until he doesn’t.
“In my experience with Jay, he’s a tough son-of-a-gun — so he doesn’t go typical lengths people put into it as far as weeks [out],” Fox said. “So right now he is day-to-day.”
Though Cutler has missed at least one game because of injury in six of the last seven seasons — including five games this season with a sprained thumb — he does have a history of healing quickly. He returned after one game following a concussion in 2010 and 2012. He returned after missing one game with a hamstring injury last season to lead the Bears to a victory over the Raiders.
At least once it appeared he came back too quickly. In 2013, Cutler returned after missing one game with a groin injury, but faded after a strong start against the Lions and ended up missing four more games.
Fox, though, was not able to refute reports that Cutler has a torn labrum. His roundabout response made it sound like Cutler’s labrum is torn, but not torn enough for the Bears to acknowledge it’s torn.
“Tear is kind of a broad term,” Fox said. “It is sore. But there’s a lot of things in the shoulder that can affect the quarterback — some of them can be just chronic, old, wear-and-tear [injuries] like pitchers or quarterbacks in the National Football League. So it’s injured, but it’s not season-ending.”
Fox also tip-toed around the question of whether Cutler would need surgery to repair the sore labrum — though that might be a moot issue for the Bears, if educated speculation that the Bears will move on from Cutler after this season is realized. For what it’s worth, Fox referenced Kyle Long, who played in eight games this season with a torn labrum before suffering a season-ending ankle injury. Long will have surgery to repair the labrum either later this season or in the offseason.
“He [Long] was able to play with it — that was way back in August. Supposedly he was going to miss the season [and it] didn’t come to fruition,” Fox said. “But [Cutler’s labrum injury] will be evaluated in the offseason.”
Be that as it may, it’s more likely that Barkley will get his first NFL start Sunday. Barkley, who was signed to the practice squad in Week 1 and promoted to the active roster in Week 3 after Cutler suffered the sprained thumb, last played on Oct. 20 against the Packers after back-up Brian Hoyer suffered a broken leg in the second quarter. Barkley completed 6-of-15 passes for 81 yards and two interceptions for an 18.3 rating in a 26-10 loss.
The Bears, though, were impressed that, although the numbers were ugly, Barkley was not overwhelmed in a difficult situation.
“It’s not too big for him … I think that’s pretty important at that position,” Fox said. “He can make all the throws. He handles the audibles pretty well. He understands the offense — he’s picked that up pretty quickly. I’m confident in the guy.”
Prior to the Packers game, Barkley had thrown one pass in a regular-season NFL game since Nov. 3, 2014 with the Eagles. This would be his sixth NFL game.
“I’m definitely excited,” Barkley said. “It’s still up in the air about what’s going to be happening. But I’m preparing like I’m starting.”
The advantage this time is that Barkley is getting first-team reps in practice.
“I’d like to say I’m light years ahead [in preparedness since the Packers game], but I’m definitely more prepared,” Barkley said. “Plays are coming out of my mouth just like normal sentences and [I’m] seeing everything a lot clearer. I love the game plan we have so far. I’ve definitely made a lot of strides even since then.
“Getting the reps is big in any quarterback’s development — so taking advantage of those, just getting the timing down with the receivers, getting in and out of the huddle — little things like that. Whatever happens Sunday, I’ll be ready.”