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Wednesday, January 6, 2010
Turner: Offense was going to take time

ESPNChicago.com

The Chicago Bears finally got who they believed was a franchise quarterback when they traded for Jay Cutler in April.

But big expectations also came with the former Denver Broncos quarterback, and when Cutler and the offense struggled this season, the man pulling the strings paid the price.

Ron Turner, fired as the Bears offensive coordinator after five seasons on Tuesday, said those high expectations took a big toll on his quarterback.

"He came into a difficult situation with the expectations as high as they were," Turner said Wednesday on the "Waddle & Silvy Show" on ESPN 1000. "As soon as he got here everybody said 'Jay Cutler is here,' and now the expectations went through the roof. I don't know if that was realistic with the issues we had on the offensive line and with the young receivers. We all knew it was going to take some time. I'm not sure anybody else did. I think there was a huge weight on his shoulders to come in and really produce at a high level."

After a promising exhibition season, Cutler's Bears debut was a four-interception clunker during a 21-15 loss to the Green Bay Packers. He went on to throw 26 interceptions and took much of the blame for the Bears' disappointing 7-9 season.

Turner defended his relationship with his quarterback.

"It was fine. I think it was good. We communicated," Turner said. "He came up every Tuesday evening, and we talked about what he saw on film getting ready for somebody, and I talked about the game plan. We talked constantly throughout the week and communicated on things. I think there was a frustration level that we both had, especially early. We tried to basically run our offense, and then we saw that we had protection [problems] at times, receiver [problems] at times, we just weren't clicking so we scaled back a little bit trying to do some things that we could do.

"I think there was a frustration level that hit us both. I think some of those interceptions came when he was frustrated and trying to make something happen. But I'm fine with (our relationship)."

With new players on the offensive line and at receiver, Turner said the Bears had plenty of other challenges surrounding Cutler.

"Jay is obviously very talented," Turner said. "He came in here to a new system even though a lot of the things we did were things he did in Denver, concept-wise, so it wasn't totally foreign, totally new. But we were working with a lot of new players. Obviously, he's coming in to all new players, and then we had three players on the offensive line who were new to our system. Orlando Pace, obviously a great player toward the end of his career, and then two young players who had never played. Chris Williams, a projected left tackle, we're playing him at right tackle, and Frank Omiyale who had started one game in his career. It was a learning process for those guys."

"And then at receiver we had three receivers that played a lot of football for us who had really never played in the NFL and obviously had never played with Jay except for Earl [Bennett] who played with him at Vanderbilt. So there was a learning process, a learning curve. We made progress. Those guys were a lot better at the end of the year than at the beginning, both the linemen and receivers. But we didn't make the progress as quickly as we would have liked to."

One of those young receivers, Devin Aromashodu, showed flashes of brilliance late in the season after being inactive for six games and barely getting on the field in six others. The third-year receiver caught 22 passes for 282 yards and four touchdowns in the final four games, including a seven-catch, 150-yard performance against the Vikings that included the winning 39-yard TD in overtime.

Turner and the coaching staff received criticism for not getting Aromashodu on the field sooner.

"I've been asked that, and I'm not sure why people keep talking about that," Turner said. "[Aromashodu] got hurt in the last preseason game. He hurt his hamstring, and he was out a couple weeks. When he came back, he wasn't back 100 percent. When he got back to the point that he was practicing at full speed and playing, we started to get him in the lineup. Could we have done it a couple weeks earlier? Possibly. But once he got healthy and started playing well in practice, we started getting him in the mix."

Turner, who finished his second stint as Bears offensive coordinator, has coached the top two passing seasons in franchise history. Erik Kramer passed for a Bears-record 3,838 yards in 1995, and Cutler's 3,666 yards this season rank second.

But the Bears struggled to run the ball this season, often abandoning it because they faced big early deficits in games. Matt Forte topped 100 yards just twice this season and averaged 3.6 yards a carry.

Turner said he thought he would be back next season when asked after the season finale against the Lions on Sunday. But that changed Tuesday when he was one of six Bears assistants to be fired.

"I knew it was a possibility. You never know anything for sure," Turner said. "Obviously, when you have a disappointing year you know in this business that changes are going to be made. You try not to focus on it. I tried to focus on doing the best job I could, putting our players in position to make plays and try to win games. If you do that, the rest of it takes care of itself.

"I feel myself and the offensive staff, we did the best job we could with the players we had. .... Obviously we did some good things, and I thought we progressed as the season went on with the young team that we had, but we made too many mistakes offensively and that hurt us. You can't turn the ball over that much and win and that was a disappointing thing."

With the Bears' future tied to Cutler, who earlier this season signed a three-year extension through 2013, Turner said he believes the embattled quarterback can take the franchise in the right direction if they surround him with the right pieces.

"Time will tell. Talent-wise obviously he is extremely talented and he is very intelligent," Turner said. "He has good football instincts. I don't know why he couldn't if he's surrounded by good people on the offensive line, running game, receivers. Any quarterback has to have all that. If he has all that around him there is no question he can take the Bears where they want to go."