CHICAGO -- If there were one phrase that is antithetical to Jay Cutler's career, it's "a day at the beach."
Nothing has come easy for Cutler in his time with the Bears, except for the contracts.
But last Friday, there was Cutler chilling at North Avenue Beach a week before training camp opened. It was the last gasp of his summer. His season begins this week.
Cutler welcomed reporters to his charity beach volleyball tournament, answered a few anodyne questions and spent the day mixing and mingling with the teams that paid a grand to his diabetes charity, with the winners getting to have dinner with Cutler that evening.
The media team was gunning for that dinner, trust me.
In the five minutes he spent with reporters, Cutler showed off his playful, joking side, which we see on occasion, but not enough.
I saw him take a selfie with an overeager (non-sports) radio host and later saw a picture he took with a bride and groom out at the beach taking wedding photos.
If Cutler wanted to, he could own Chicago. A good-looking, tough quarterback for the Chicago Bears: It should be easy.
But it hasn't been easy for him. Aside from his weekly in-season paid appearance on "The Waddle & Silvy Show," there is no vehicle to get to know Cutler, aside from his performance and his oft-critiqued body language. There is a distance between the city and Cutler. Maybe this is the year that divide is closed.
At the beach, Cutler wore a thick scruff of beard and short khaki shorts and seemed at peace. He looked happy and comfortable.
So I could write that snippet of time is going to symbolize how happy and comfortable he'll be as quarterback this season, his sixth with the Bears.
I guess I just did. But that's the last time I'm going to mention Cutler and body language this season. The last time I psychoanalyze Cutler, a person with whom I've never had a one-on-one conversation.
OK, OK, I can't promise I won't relapse when he grumbles at a reporter or looks forlorn on the sidelines, but that's my goal. Cutler doesn't want to throw interceptions, but things happen.
Covering Jay Cutler is the job for a novelist with third-person omniscience. Because I don't know what's going on his head and I'm tired of guessing.
I'm also not going to write the "Jay Cutler has no excuses" column that I've written, along with my peers, a hundred times already.
Yes, he's got head coach Marc Trestman, the same offense and an offensive line and the best receiving duo in the NFL and a new contract, etc. We know this. Jay knows this. There is no doubt he's more comfortable this season than in the past; how could he not be? Last year, he was learning. This year, he should be teaching.
"For sure, for sure, with all the guys around me, coach Trestman and the rest of coaches in place there's definitely comfort there, not only for me, but the rest of the guys as well," he said at his event.
At 31, he remains inscrutable to national reporters, aloof to local ones. Fans cherrypick his failings and contrarians back up his strengths. His low ranking in Ron Jaworski's big board of quarterbacks is enough to busy a sports radio talk show for a few days, at least.
No matter how good his supporting cast is and how often his teammates and coaches try to downplay that Cutler is the leading character in the Bears' story, he is the quarterback, which means he is the star. Like you, I want to see if his numbers match his abilities. I want to see if he can play a full season and return the Bears to the playoffs. I want to see if Cutler can re-brand himself as a winner instead of a whiner.
Last year, the storyline was "Is Cutler worth the contract?" General manager Phil Emery saved us from months of debate when he inked Cutler to a new deal on Jan. 2.
This year, it will be "Can Cutler realize his potential?" Cutler can save us from months of debate by, you know, realizing his potential.
But he can't do that in late July.
We still have a month of training camp before the Bears open at home against the Buffalo Bills. With a long season ahead of him, Cutler said he's ready to go to Bourbonnais, despite the pain of leaving his wife and two children.
"I'm ready, ready to go," he said about reporting to camp. "I think guys are itching to get back into it and see what we have. There's a lot of work to do."
Let the Season of Jay commence!