Jay Cutler ready to “start grinding away”

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Bears quarterback Jay Cutler largely avoided the spotlight, after his team’s 21-14 loss to the Green Bay Packers in the NFC title game at Soldier Field.

But his desire didn’t keep him out of the headlines, as numerous current and former players took aim at him, because he didn’t finish the championship game. There was no shortage of critics, among them Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew and NFL Network analyst Deion Sanders.

And despite the best efforts of Bears players and coaches, the perception of Cutler took a beating.

So why did he wait until Thursday to talk?

I didn’t specifically ask Cutler that, when I spoke to him. But the sense I get is that Cutler was ready for an extended break.

Let’s not forget how hectic the last two offseasons have been for him. In 2009, Cutler was traded from the Denver Broncos to the Bears in April. He had to get a crash-course in a new offense, one that didn’t boast a line nearly as talented as the one he had in Denver. Then, after a disappointing 7-9 season, the Bears fired Ron Turner and hired Mike Martz.

Excited to work with Martz, Cutler spent whatever time was permissible at Halas Hall, meeting with his new coordinator and learning another new offense.

Cutler endured a roller coaster season, including the record-breaking beating he took at the hands of the New York Giants, but he rebounded and helped lead the Bears to an NFC North title and into the NFC championship game.

Then, it seemed, he needed to get away.

While his knee injury didn’t allow him to finish the last game of his 2011 season, Cutler surely feels fortunate that it wasn’t more severe and didn’t require surgery.

“I’m good,” Cutler said. “It’s one of those things that heal on its own. It’s been a couple of months. I haven’t really tested it.”

On Thursday, Cutler admitted to me he’s “kind of bored.”

He said he and his teammates have talked and exchanged emails about holding some workouts together, but they wanted to see what happened in federal court on Wednesday.

As I noted last month, the Bears are in better shape than most teams, because they have a veteran roster and because they have continuity on offense, defense and special teams.

The focus for the Bears right now is to start getting into shape. But Cutler said football shape would be an emphasis if the lockout extends into next month.

“If we’re locked out by May, we’re definitely going to have to make something happen,” Cutler said.

The preference, of course, is to reunite at Halas Hall. But, if necessary, the Bears will make contingency plans elsewhere.

“We got a good rapport at the end of the year, and its something we want to continue,” he said. “Everyone likes to have the time off, but around now, guys get itchy.

“Guys want to see what’s up.”

Cutler said he’s excited about what the team can add via the draft, but he added that the Bears are “a good team.

“A veteran team. We’ll be in contention.”

Here’s a link to my story in today’s Sun-Times: http://www.suntimes.com/4719731-417/sun-times-exclusive-bears-qb-jay-cutler-speaks-his-mind.html

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