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Just got off the phone with personnel analyst Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc., who expressed a few fair reservations about Jay Cutler's gunslinger mentality. But overall, Williamson said Chicago "dramatically improved" its offense by acquiring Cutler from Denver and added:
"The Bears are probably the team to beat in their division. If I had to pick right now, I would pick them to win the North, where I wouldn't have yesterday. So I think that speaks to the significance of this trade."
On the most basic level, Williamson said Cutler more than fits the profile of an ideal Chicago quarterback that plays at least eight games a year at Soldier Field:
"You need a big, strong-armed guy to cut through the wind and the elements. I know it sounds simple, but the average fan tends to overlook that. Whenever you're shopping for a quarterback to play in Chicago, New York, Cleveland or somewhere like that, you better have a cannon and throw a spiral that can cut the wind. Cutler can do that in a big way. The defense has to guard the whole field, and that hasn't always been the case in the past 10 years or so in Chicago. Arm strength like that can make a lot of other problems go away."
Williamson also predicted Cutler could make a significant player out of receiver Earl Bennett, who did not catch a pass last season but has been penciled in as a starter for 2009. (The Bears no longer having a 2009 draft choice further reduces the possibility they'll be able to draft a receiver who can step into the starting lineup right away.)
Bennett and Cutler were teammates at Vanderbilt and are so close that Cutler returned to campus last year to throw for Bennett's pro day workout.
"They had a tremendous rapport at Vanderbilt, and that's actually a big deal when you talk about quarterbacks and receivers. While he was a disappointment last year, you could see a guy like Bennett being much more viable now -- particularly on out routes and intermediate routes. I don't think he's going to be a field stretcher. That will be Devin Hester's job. But Cutler is going to help guys like Bennett, [tight end] Greg Olsen and even [tailback] Matt Forte be more productive in the passing game."
Indeed, Williamson didn't believe the Bears' relatively thin group of receivers will inhibit Cutler's performance. If anything, Williamson said, Cutler's penchant for taking risks poses the biggest threat to his success in Chicago:
"Not many people have brought that up during this whole discussion about him being a great young quarterback over the past month or so. But that's a big negative about him. He can get the ball into tight windows, but I would think some of the things he does would make a defensive head coach pull his hair out. You think of Lovie Smith, who is defensive-minded and pretty conservative, and you wonder how he'll react to some of the things he does.
"People compare his arm strength to Brett Favre, but you can also compare them when it comes to taking risks. His bad decisions are off the charts, and he makes a lot of them. He'll throw a lot of picks and put his defense in a bad spot more often than you'd like. But all in all, it's a good move, especially considering where they were before this."