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Bears are Jay Cutler’s team now more than ever

Bears quarterback Jay Cutler. (AP)

BOCA RATON, Fla. — A year ago at the NFL owners meeting in Phoenix, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler’s confidence came into question.

Coach John Fox said then that his look into Cutler’s 2014 season told him that his soon-to-be starting quarterback lost his confidence during a year marred by controversies. The goal was to rebuild it.

It’s apparent that things are different now for Cutler. Team-wise and individually, he is in a much better place, and Fox is a major reason why.

“Some of it was some of the things that happened,” Fox said Wednesday at the NFC coaches breakfast at the Boca Raton Resort. “There was a little bit of an air that I sensed here a year ago that everybody else was OK, but Jay was 5-11.

“Well, that’s not really real. It’s like this year. We were all 6-10. Our signature’s on it, not just one guy’s signature, whether it’s a game, a quarter of the season or the whole season.”

Translation: Fox has Cutler’s back. Cutler, whom Fox described as the “most pleasant surprise of our team” last year, turned out to be crucial to the culture change under Fox and general manager Ryan Pace.

The changes continue at Halas Hall, but the Bears’ brass was encouraged to hear their new free-agent signings mention Cutler’s influence in their decisions to join the team.

With all the changes over the last few seasons, the Bears are Cutler’s team more than ever. He’s one of two players — kicker Robbie Gould being the other — remaining from former GM Jerry Angelo’s tenure.

“I don’t think that [Cutler] gets enough credit for everything that he does off the field,” chairman George McCaskey said. “He established himself in 2015, I think again, as a leader of our team. He had a great year statistically and really solid play and cut down the turnovers. We’re looking forward to even more from him in 2016.”

The Bears have preached continuity, but their offense will be different next season. Fox acknowledged as much, especially with Dowell Loggains taking over as coordinator and the departures of running back Matt Forte and tight end Martellus Bennett.

The Bears’ offense will learn what it does well as time goes on, starting with the offseason program, which begins April 18. Fox said more offensive pieces will be added, but having Alshon Jeffery, Kevin White, Zach Miller and Jeremy Langford is a good start.

“We’re not going to try and put [Cutler] in bad situations, whether it’s a play call or the situation of a game,” Fox said. “We’re not going to do that in player acquisition, either.”

Fox knows how he wants Cutler to play.

Dolphins coach Adam Gase, the Bears’ former offensive coordinator, said Cutler excelled at being patient last season, which was difficult at times for the noted gunslinger. It was in line with Fox’s goals of shortening games and playing complementary football.

Fox doesn’t want Cutler to become more of a risk-taker to reach another level. Athletically, Fox said he sees Cutler as a young quarterback, but he wants him to continue to be a sound decision-maker. He cited the Bears’ progress on third down last season as an example. Cutler also had a career-high 92.3 passer rating and his second-best interception rate last season.

“Patience is important with everything, and most people quit before they get over the hill, truth be told,” Fox said. “It’s hard work, tremendous mental toughness and really, at some point, people say you’ve got to have confidence.”

Cutler has it now — and the Bears have it in him.

Follow me on Twitter @adamjahns

Email: ajahns@suntimes.com