Jay Cutler never played a down for Adam Gase in Denver. Yet the Bears’ first-year offensive coordinator still remembers the quarterback sticking his head in Gase’s office sometime in early 2009 — before Cutler demanded, and was granted, a trade to the Bears.
Both men were trying to learn new coach Josh McDaniels’ playbook.
“He was rattling off terms,” Gase said Friday. “And I was like, ‘He hasn’t even taught that to us (coaches) yet.’”
That intelligence is one reason Gase refused to cross anything off his playbook, which for two years was run by perhaps the game’s most cerebral quarterback, Peyton Manning.
Saying he didn’t “want to handcuff anybody right now,” Gase vowed to learn the strengths of his players before focusing his playbook after mandatory June workouts. He said Matt Forte — ever-reliable and in-shape — could prove to be the exception to Gase’s recent history of using multiple running backs.
As evidence of his vow to evolve, Gase pointed to the Bears using a fullback during Friday’s rookie minicamp. He never had one with the Broncos.
“We’re not going to do, ‘Hey, this is what we did in Denver,’” Gase said. “Nobody cares.”
Yet he didn’t rule out giving Cutler some of the line-of-scrimmage freedom that was a Manning hallmark — intriguing, given that Cutler struggled with audibles last season.
“That’s the thing about having the spring the way it is — you’re going to have a lot of opportunities to do things,” Gase said, answering questions for the first time 107 days after his hire. “You got a lot of time in training camp. You got a lot of time in the preseason.
“We got a lot of room for growth, and to see how far (Cutler) can take it.”
It will be impossible to untangle the offense’s strengths from those of Cutler. That’s been true for each offensive coordinator — of which Gase is the fifth — to coach Cutler since his arrival in 2009.
Cutler has had so many coordinators that they transcend generations. Upon hearing Gase use certain terms, Cutler’s accused him of sounding “a little Martzist,” a reference to former Bears coordinator Mike Martz.
Gase worked for him with the Lions and 49ers — and almost, he revealed Friday, with the Bears. The Bears mailed him a contract offer to coach quarterbacks under Martz in 2010, but McDaniels told him to stay in Denver instead.
Gase first met Cutler while working for Martz as a Lions offensive assistant in 2006. He picked him up at the Detroit airport for a pre-draft interview.
Asked how Cutler had changed, he cracked a joke.
“He’s lost weight,” Gase said. “He looks good. He’s so mature now compared to what he probably was then. When you get married and you got two kids right now, you change over time and between the good and bad things that happen over your career. I think this is his 10th year. I mean, a lot of ups and downs.
“I think he’s ready for a fresh start.”
That starts with curbing his 18 interceptions from last season.
“I think most of us would say when he first came into the league he was that gunslinger-type mentality,” Gase said. “And I see a more patient guy. We’ve just got to get him there for 60 minutes.”
It could be a one-year proposition. If Cutler struggles, he’s easier to trade or release after the season.
If he shines, Gase might have earned himself a head-coaching gig somewhere.
After three years working with Manning — the first as the quarterbacks coach — Gase knows relationships take time. But at least he and Cutler have a history.
“A lot of the things we did, we developed over a three year span — our relationship with me and Peyton,” he said. “It’s going to take some time, me and him getting used to each other.”