LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- A notably fast healer, Jay Cutler is pushing to return from a hamstring injury ahead of schedule in order to start on Sunday against the Oakland Raiders. Based on the evidence at practice, there is a reasonable chance that Cutler has sped up his recovery to the point where the Bears could medically clear him to play in Week 4. Nothing has been decided yet.
Cutler could experience a setback on Friday or Saturday that derails the plan, but if he does somehow make it back after only one week, here are three things to watch for at Soldier Field:
1. How will Cutler’s hamstring affect his mobility? The Bears’ medical staff better be sure that Cutler can move laterally to avoid the rush before they clear him to return. Cutler’s hamstring is not 100 percent. The fact he is even pushing to come back after missing only one game is a testament to his pain tolerance. But don’t expect him to scramble for many first downs. Cutler can be limited and still play, but is he recovered enough to protect himself in the pocket? The Bears need to be certain if they give Cutler the green light to face Oakland.
2. The risk of re-injury is high: Hamstring injuries present unique problems because the risk of aggravating the problem is great. Players who rush back too soon may pull the hamstring again or even tear it. Cutler needs to be careful. Is it worth jeopardizing the entire year to play in a Week 4 game? Cutler’s position on the field lends itself to a speedier return. Quarterbacks are not required to run on every play like receivers, defensive backs or tailbacks. But Cutler’s greatest strength is his athleticism and ability to improvise on the fly. With left tackle Jermon Bushrod unlikely to play because of a concussion/shoulder injury, Cutler is going to get hit. Can he play four quarters without suffering a setback?
3. Cutler can increase the tempo: Cutler understands the intricacy of the offense. He’s enjoyed a great deal of success working in the framework of the system for almost six quarters, minus the pair of costly interceptions. Cutler can run the no-huddle far better than Jimmy Clausen. The Bears are much better off on Sunday with Cutler at quarterback. This would become a winnable game if Cutler is under center. A 1-3 record sounds a lot better than 0-4. Cutler took plenty of reps on Wednesday and Thursday. His mind is ready. But is his body? We’ll know the answer on Sunday.