Bears

Cutler emerging as unquestioned Bears leader

535874.jpg

Cutler emerging as unquestioned Bears leader

Saturday, Sept. 10, 2011Posted: 12:10 a.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com Bears Insider Follow @CSNMoonMullin
Roy Williams had not seen many passes like that one in Tennessee.

It was only preseason, or maybe because it was preseason, and Williams cut right, through the Titans defense but drawing a crowd. Williams could see Jay Cutler through the moving figures, back upfield in the pocket.

Suddenly there was the ball. It went through the startled Williams hands, but not before leaving an impression in its wake. Williams had played with Tony Romo in Dallas, so he was no stranger to footballs traveling at high speeds.

This was something different.

Thinking about that throw, I asked him the other day, Whats your most impressive throw, ever? Williams said, slowly shaking his head. He said, Ive had a bunch of those.

Thats a guy you want to play for, a guy you know is going to have your back and Ive got his.

That was not a sentiment every teammate might have expressed over Cutlers career. But as he has said on so many occasions over the past two years, it is the only one that matters to Cutler.

Therein lies the emergence of a leader.

Dealing with changes

Cutlers public demeanor has appeared more affable and relaxed since the early days of training camp. He has seemed more comfortable with questions and dispensing humor without the air of distance he projected in the past.

That in itself is a perceivable change for someone who has been through many in a short time.

Since arriving via trade from Denver in 2009, Cutler has been through two coordinators, two centers, a nine-sack first half and concussion (at New York last season) and broken-off engagement (his call) with reality star Kristin Cavallari. He has dealt with the onset of diabetes in 2007 that requires daily insulin injections and also saw the trade of a friend and key receiver (tight end Greg Olsen, to Carolina and new contract).

I love Greg, Cutler said. And what we brought to us. But thats where it is. Hes got a great deal of money, to go play for a real good team. Hes a great guy, and a terrific football player.

He has gone through a physical makeover, from 233 pounds a year ago to a noticeably thinner 220 now. Part of the reason is a touch of maturity and an indication that he can read a calendar as well as a defense.

My diet was different, just standard stuff, Cutler said. Im getting a little older, so I got to get in a little better shape.

I have not been this lean. I can tell the difference in my footwork and just my ability to get up in the pocket. You know, I don't really get as tired as much throughout camp because I'm not carrying around all that weight. Whether it's good or bad, we'll wait to see.

The attack

Next to all of that, a little verbal abuse from players around the league was petty cash.

Cutler was the target of derision from fellow players after he left the NFC Championship in January after one series in the third quarter. The reason: a knee injury that critics doubted. Never mind that it was later diagnosed as a Grade II torn left medial collateral ligament, or that Cutler took an injection at halftime, came out in the second half and tried to play before being shut down after three unsuccessful plays.

Center Olin Kreutz, the Bears enforcer and acknowledged team tough guy, said after the game, His knee was shaking just standing there in the huddle. Dont try telling me he wasnt hurt.

Indeed, a handful of teammates privately grumbled about the Cutler injury, possibly a reflection of the fact that Cutler was in the throes of a dismal performance when he was injured. But the avalanche of criticism from outsiders appeared to bring the team together around their embattled quarterback.

When a questioner at the NFL scouting combine last February raised a question about Cutlers toughness, coach Lovie Smiths terse, testy response abruptly ended that line of inquiry.
Expectations not his friend

The expectations of Cutler have been huge since the start of his NFL career. They became substantially higher in a Bears town than even in Denver, where he had been drafted with the hope that he would return the Broncos to the glories of the John Elway days. That didnt happen.

The Bears took matters to a different level in 2009 when they invested two No. 1 draft choices in a trade for what they saw as their franchise quarterback. Cutler had reached a Pro Bowl, was in the prime of his career and was intended to sweep away years of frustrating quarterback searches.

Other Bears quarterbacks in the past have been fighting for jobs, said former Bears wide receiver Rashied Davis, now with the Detroit Lions. They've been competing and haven't had as much control as maybe Jay does as a franchise quarterback.

He came in as the Pro Bowl quarterback, the franchise. He was 'Jay Cutler, Pro Bowl quarterback' before he came here and had already proved his place in the league. It's different.

The Broncos had spent a No. 1 pick for Cutler. The Bears had parted with two, plus Kyle Orton and a third-round pick. Then, less than two months into his first Chicago season, they gave him a contract extension worth 30 million. For a Bears town, that makes him more than just another football player.

Jay is the guy, Davis said, that the city of Chicago is leaning on."

Lean on me?

More important, he is also becoming the guy more than just the huddle is leaning on.

Cutler was again voted a co-captain on offense. And he has comported himself like one.

When Johnny Knox had his starting job given to Williams during training camp, Cutler sought Knox out to talk and gauge the feelings of the young receiver.

During the preseason and training camp, backup quarterback Caleb Hanie struggled with interceptions to the point of suffering a brief demotion behind little-used rookie Nathan Enderle. It was Cutler, no stranger to interception problems himself, again talking to Hanie, wanting to keep a slump in play from becoming something more.

When a mistake is made in a receivers route in practice, Cutler will look first to receivers coach Darryl Drake. From the eye contact, its decided whether Drake or Cutler will say what needs to be said to the offending wideout.

Cutler can fix a player with The Look but rarely will there be hectoring or a rant. It is a style that is consistent with the demeanors of fellow captains Roberto Garza, Patrick Mannelly, Julius Peppers and Brian Urlacher, the other leaders of the team.

Weve never had a rah-rah guy since Ive been here, Urlacher said. I hate those guys, always yapping, running their mouths.

He has a new center in Garza, a good friend of Kreutzs but who projects a far different, calmer persona. Garza is the other captain on offense and projects a different style of leadership himself.

Cutler is not the type to demand attention if he cannot command it.

Leadership is kind of a funny thing, said offensive coordinator Mike Martz. Everyone has a different version of what it is. I think confidence, and how you approach your craft, says everything about it, and your ability to exude that in the huddle and how youre playing. Thats where he is right now.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

Even without practicing, Allen Robinson is making a strong first impression with the Bears

Even without practicing, Allen Robinson is making a strong first impression with the Bears

Before Bears wide receivers coach Mike Furrey met with the media on Wednesday, Allen Robinson was curious what his position coach would say about him in public. 

“I just told him, I don’t know you,” Furrey quipped. “Who’s Allen Robinson?”

Furrey, of course, knows who Robinson is. But the point behind that joke is that Furrey, the Bears’ court wide receivers coach in four years, is still getting to know all of his receivers — let alone the one who hasn’t participated in a practice yet. For all the positivity that's easy to find around Halas Hall these days, the Bears' biggest offseason acquisition hasn't taken a rep yet. 

The good news for the Bears, of course, is that Robinson’s past play speaks for itself. He combined for 153 catches, 2,883 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2015 and 2016, and has been adamant he’ll return to that high level of play when he’s cleared to practice. The Bears were confident enough in Robinson’s medicals to guarantee him a little over $25 million in March, per Spotrac, about a month before they let Cameron Meredith sign with the New Orleans Saints largely over medical concerns (Meredith’s torn ACL was viewed as more serious than Robinson’s, in short). 

So the getting-to-know-you phase for Furrey and Robinson is largely taking place off the field in the meeting rooms of Halas Hall. 

“What a great young man,” Furrey said. “He’s come in here, obviously, rehabbing and doing all those things. But he’s alert, he comes to meetings, he’s ready to go. Really, really smart, you can tell that from the beginning and he’s a professional.”

What Furrey, in particular, likes about Robinson is that he’s an “alpha,” but is far more than all talk and no action. 

“And a lot of times that alpha talks a lot and they don’t really put it out there,” Furrey said. “He kind of has that alpha quietness to him. He understands what’s going on, you can look at him and you just kind of get that feel of he has a great understanding of how to approach this game at this level. Obviously he’s been highly successful for a couple years with some big numbers, but he doesn’t act like that. He’s still hungry, he wants to learn, and I think he’s got a chip on his shoulder, which is a good trait to have too. So we’re excited about that.”

The expectation all along has been for Robinson to be cleared to fully participate in training camp practices. So while coach Matt Nagy said last week Robinson is “ahead of the game,” that may not mean he takes part in the final round of OTAs next week or veteran minicamp the first week of June. 

But while Robinson can’t prove himself to his new coaches on the field yet, he’s doing the right things off the field to make a positive first impression. 

“He knows you gotta come in early, he knows you gotta be the last one to leave, he knows you gotta study,” Furrey said. “It doesn’t matter five years in, six years in, you gotta take notes. It doesn’t matter if you hear it 10 times, you just gotta keep taking notes. He’s been really good at that, and I’ve been really impressed with that. I’ve been able to get on the field with him a little bit, just kind of throwing some balls to him, and I didn’t know he was that big. But obviously we’re excited for it to happen out there.” 

Protection Issues: Bears O-line ranked 21st in NFL

Protection Issues: Bears O-line ranked 21st in NFL

Mitch Trubisky has been set up for a huge season in 2018 with all the firepower the Chicago Bears added on offense. Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Anthony Miller and Trey Burton will give the second-year quarterback a variety of explosive targets to generate points in bunches.

None of the headline-grabbing moves will matter, however, if the offensive line doesn't do its job. 

According to Numberfire.com, the Bears' starting five could be the offense's Achilles heel. They were ranked 21st in the NFL and described as poor in pass protection.

Last year, the Bears ranked 26th in Sack NEP per drop back and 23rd in sack rate. These issues were especially apparent after Trubisky took over. In the games that [Kyle] Long played, their sack rate was 8.2%. It was actually 7.2% in the games that he missed. They struggled even when Long was healthy.

The Bears added Iowa's James Daniels in the second round of April's draft and he's expected to start at guard alongside Long. Cody Whitehair will resume his role as the starting center, with Charles Leno, Jr. and Bobby Massie at offensive tackle.

If Long comes back healthy and Daniels lives up to his draft cost, they should be a good run-blocking team from the jump. But Long has played just 18 games the past two years and is entering his age-30 season, so that's far from a lock. On top of that, the pass blocking was suspect last year and remains a mystery entering 2018.

The biggest addition to the offensive line is Harry Hiestand, the accomplished position coach who returns to Chicago after once serving in the same role under Lovie Smith from 2005-2009. He most recently coached at Notre Dame and helped develop multiple first-round picks. He's going to have a huge impact.

The good news for the Bears is they weren't the lowest-ranked offensive line in the NFC North. The Vikings came in at No. 25. The Packers checked-in at No. 13, while the Lions were 16th.