When Erik Kramer arrived as Bears quarterback in 1994, he had dismal games early against the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions, the latter being his former team. I asked Kramer why those teams were such problems, given that he obviously knew where their defensive players would be.
“The problem wasn’t that I didn’t know where their guys were going to be,” Kramer said. “It was that I wasn’t sure when OUR guys were going to be.”
The reason was simple. Kramer was coming into a West Coast system under coordinator Ron Turner and was required to execute more of a timing offense, throwing earlier to still-unfamiliar receivers.
Two decades later, Jay Cutler has grappled with the identical problem, although not as much because of scheme or where defenses will be. Instead, Cutler has had to sort out his own guys and the myriad receiver combinations employed. Alshon Jeffery does not run routes the same as Marquess Wilson as Marc Mariani as Josh Bellamy as ... You get the idea.
“Yeah, it’s tough,” Cutler acknowledged on Thursday. “The good thing about is it’s a really good [receivers] room. Availability is key in this league and a lot of the guys have been up and down, up and down. You can go down the list.”
That list may be stabilizing for the good this week with Jeffery no longer on the injury report and Royal practicing on a limited basis after missing the last five games and six altogether this season with a knee injury.
Not that the Jeffery-Royal pairing equates to success; the Bears are 0-3 in the games when both receivers played.
But Royal was a favorite target of Cutler’s when the two played with the Denver Broncos (2008) and again this year in training camp, where Royal clearly was in phase with Cutler.
“For me, I’ve had enough experience with Jay to know how to expect the ball, where he’s going to go, how he’s going to go, when he’s going to throw,” Royal said. “So I’ve still got that in my mind. You’ve still got to react to it and react to the situation. It’s different for a quarterback, who has to throw it before a receiver comes out of his break.
[SHOP BEARS: Get your Bears gear right here]
“It’s about trust. Sometimes the timing is not always going to be there, so you have to trust that I’ll be at the right spot. If you have to be there at 10 yards, then that’s where the receiver has to be. And that’s where trust and faith come in.”
Cutler’s trust and faith are there with Royal and with Jeffery, with Cutler declaring that if Jeffery is against one-on-one coverage, “it’s going to take a lot to get me off him.”
Even if trust has sometimes been difficult to come by, Cutler has been consistently complimentary toward his inexperienced receiver group. “They’ve done a really good job of being where they’re supposed to be,” said Cutler. “I think it’s a credit to how hard they work, how much they study, and Mike [Groh, receivers coach] making sure that they are prepared each and every week.”