I’m having strange, unbidden, borderline-positive thoughts about Jay Cutler, thoughts that in other human beings would be considered empathetic.
Those of you who know I believe he’s an average quarterback might be stunned by what appears to be a shift in my thinking, but I wouldn’t mistake me just yet for the wind beneath his wings. He’s still an average quarterback.
But he’s an average quarterback whose physical and emotional well-being could take a beating this season.
There are so many moving parts to the Bears’ offense right now that it’s a miracle Cutler doesn’t walk around with a Dramamine intravenous drip. If everyone is healthy, he’ll have three new offensive linemen this season, which includes a new center, thanks to Hroniss Grasu’s season-ending knee injury. And no one will discuss the extent of Kyle Long’s shoulder injury.
Cutler will be working with a new offensive coordinator and a new running back this year. The Bears hope that Kevin White turns out to be the wide receiver they thought he was when they drafted him seventh overall last year, not the guy who was injured all season. And they hope that tight end Zach Miller has another injury free season. Miller is still dealing with the effects of a recent concussion.
Oh, and all the Bears expect of Cutler is for him to be better than he was last season, when he had his best year in Chicago. Go get ’em, Jay!
So I sort of feel … what’s this odd sensation? … sorry for him. Much of the abuse he absorbed in the past was self-inflicted. He often didn’t play well, and he often didn’t play well with others. Coordinators came and went like FedEx trucks, and Cutler had a hand in that. But what’s happening now almost feels like piling on, as if someone up there wants to see how much the quarterback can take before what’s left of him is swept into a dust pan and tossed out.
It would be nice if Cutler, 33, could go to the line of scrimmage with something resembling continuity. Even an avowed Cutler atheist can say that without feeling like he’s going over to the other side. But continuity doesn’t look like it will be anywhere in the vicinity when the Bears open the season Sept. 11 in Houston.
What gives Cutler hope that the offense, ranked 21st overall last season, will improve?
“Personnel’s better,” he said after practice Wednesday. “I think we’ve cleaned up some stuff from last year that either we didn’t do well or didn’t do enough of it or didn’t practice it enough. We’ve pared down a few things, added a few things, did some different packages. I like where we’re headed.”
It’s possible that every roll of the dice comes up big for the Bears. And if I have this straight after listening to coach John Fox, every roll will.
“I think our offensive line is improved, I think our running game overall is improved, I think with the addition of Alshon (Jeffery) and Kevin, our passing game is improved,’’ he said.
Where’s the Super Bowl this season?
For Cutler to be at his best, he needs people around him he can trust. He needs declarative sentences, not question marks. He’s not at his best when things are in flux around him. You can say that about other NFL quarterbacks, but the special ones seem to thrive in the chaos. What’s become obvious as the years have gone by is that he’s at his best and most prudent when he has good players around him playing in a conservative offense that limits his mistakes.
“We’re going to try to run the ball,’’ he said. “We want to run the ball. There will be some games it’s going to be tougher than others, and we’re going to have to lean on the pass a little bit.’’
A lot has been made of Cutler’s increased maturity the past few years, though how any of us would know about his increased anything is beyond me, given our limited interaction with him. But if some of those aforementioned questions are answered in the negative this season, Cutler will need every ounce of maturity at his disposal.
The offense played poorly in the preseason opener against Denver, then did well against the Patriots. Which one is the real deal? Perhaps we’ll get a better answer Saturday, when the Bears take on Kansas City at Soldier Field. The starters are expected to play at least the first half.
I can’t tell you if that’s good or bad for Cutler, only that I’ll be looking at him with a measure of compassion. Until the first bad interception.