- Michael C. Wright, ESPN Staff Writer
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He’s taken part in just four practices at training camp, but in that short sliver of time, Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler shows evidence he’s poised to take a major step in Year 2 of Marc Trestman’s offense.
“It’s obvious in practice that Jay is taking more and more control by the day,” offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said. “Not that he didn’t before; he did. But with his comfort level with all the things we’re trying to get done, he’s able to solve some of his own problems on the field, even when he didn’t maybe have that answer taught to him yet. It’s really helped that Jay has studied really hard all offseason. He’s worked on technique. He’s been one of the hardest-working guys on the team this offseason.”
In other words, Cutler isn’t resting on what the offense accomplished in 2013.
You know the numbers. The Bears set records last season in net yardage (6,109 yards), passing yards (4,281), completion percentage (64.4), passing touchdowns (32) and passer rating (96.9) in addition to achieving a franchise-best 344 first downs while scoring the second-most points in franchise history (445).
Cutler’s 63.1 completion percentage ranked second in franchise history, as he churned out a career-best passer rating of 89.2.
Cutler has long held a reputation for surliness, and the outside perception is he’s aloof with teammates. Yet within the organization, the quarterback didn’t display such qualities, according to the coaches. Actually, he’s quite the opposite, they say.
“I didn’t know him before last year, and to be honest with you, since I’ve been around him I’ve been nothing but impressed,” quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh said. “I think he’s got a real sincere attitude about this organization, his teammates, the coaching staff and what we’re trying to get done. He believes in it.
“He does things that will never, ever get reported, and you just say, ‘Wow, that’s unselfish.' I admire that in him.”
What went largely unreported during last year’s camp was Cutler’s penchant for gathering the players late at night to go through walkthroughs of what the offense might be working on the next day.
Evidence of Cutler’s growth also manifested itself Saturday on the field after the club’s second workout of camp. Earlier that day, Cutler and tight end Martellus Bennett squandered what should have been a touchdown in the red zone when linebacker Jonathan Bostic broke up the quarterback’s pass.
As the rest of the team walked off the field after practice, Cutler walked over to an adjacent field with Bennett to talk about ways they could be more effective in the red zone. The conversation wasn’t combative, and the duo walked away smiling, having gained a better understanding of how to capitalize on the next red-zone opportunity.
“In certain situations [Bennett is] really hard to cover,” Cutler later explained. “He’s such a big guy that even some of the intermediate stuff over the middle, he’s able to bring guys and get separation. He played basketball, so he knows how to high point the ball down in the red zone. We’ve just got to keep throwing different stuff at him and incorporating him in different ways.”
Cutler hasn’t been perfect, nor has anyone else on the offense thus far at camp. But everyone recognizes the deficiencies, and Cutler seems to be taking the lead in cleaning up things.
Cutler admitted “there’s been some sloppy stuff out there,” thus far at camp, which he said “is to be expected.”
That’s part of the reason Cutler is sometimes taking repetitions with the second-team offense. The staff wants Cutler to take as many snaps as possible to strengthen his command of the offense, while also working with different personnel that might become more involved in the scheme if there’s an injury to a key contributor.
Trestman agreed with Kromer's assessment that Cutler is more of a problem-solver in Year 2 of the offense.
“It happens both in the protection game because of his acumen. He’s seein' it all. He’s also doing it within the framework of our passing game as well,” Trestman said. “He’s able to get guys in the right position, change routes quickly and get the best and most out of each and every play. That’s kind of where he is. He’s kind of fixing it at the line of scrimmage when he needs to get that done.”
Cavanaugh called Cutler “a great example” for the offense.
“He just wants to be the best he can be every day, and he wants to make the people around him better, too,” Cavanaugh said. “That’ what you want in your leader. You want a guy who can make people around him better and be an example for them and make them better.”