BOURBONNAIS, Ill. The difference in Jay Cutler is striking, to those close to him on a daily basis possibly even more than to outsiders who get only glimpses of the personality that is putting the greatest imprint on the 2012 Bears beyond coach Lovie Smith.
The simple observation is that after three difficult years, the Bears indeed are becoming Cutlers team. But there has been nothing simple about the process.
I definitely notice the difference, said receiverreturner Devin Hester. Hes that kid who has to feel comfortable and once he does, he comes out of his shell.
Maybe he didnt feel like it was his place to come into a team with guys like Brian Urlacher, Olin Kreutz, and now hes at a point where he can feel like its his team and hes more vocal.
But hes doing a better job of becoming even more of an overall leader of this team.
It is a personal odyssey that has been far bumpier than outsiders realize.
He had it a lot rougher than people will ever know and I think he handled it really well, said wide receivers coach Darryl Drake. He was in a very tough position and it wasnt because of anything he did.
Expectations and misperceptions
Cutlers demeanor, body language, facial expressions, utterances and everything else were analyzed to degrees befitting Presidential State of the Union addresses.
And not necessarily accurately, either, with the effect that it widened any distance between Cutler and outsiders.
He was evaluated as exuding arrogance, cocky indifference and worse both on and off the field. But after viewing post-game Cutler press conferences and several of the weekly Wednesday sessions, an expert in behavioral studies told CSNChicago.com that she had rarely seen someone of Cutlers public profile who was so painfully shy.
The shy assessment was echoed privately by two other individuals with extensive close dealings with Cutler.
Dont assume that someone with a lot of self-confidence or belief in themselves isnt also uncomfortable with people they dont know well, one said. Sometimes arrogance is a faade they use to keep strangers at a distance.
Brandon Marshall lights up a room or practice field when he arrives. Cutler, with whom Marshall has a close personal relationship, simply isnt wired that way.
Cutler declined a request to be interviewed for this story. The reason given was perhaps revealing itself: He just doesnt feel comfortable being the one talking about his leadership, a Bears staffer relayed to CSNChicago.com.
The Orton factor
Cutler was acquired in a trade for Kyle Orton. That did not help Cutlers immediate acceptance in the locker room.
Orton was well-liked by teammates. He was unassuming, deferential and had earned respect on the field. One former Bear still maintains that the Bears would have gone to the 2005 Super Bowl is they had stuck with Orton rather than return to Rex Grossman late in the season after Grossman recovered from injury.
Cutler did nothing to incur dislike. He just wasnt Orton.
It wasnt Jay at all, said linebacker Brian Urlacher. It just all seemed to happen so fast. He kind of got just thrown into it because he was the quarterback, the guy.
But the truth is that everybody on this team gets along really well. Its not an act; this is a close team.
So when you take a guy away, it doesnt matter who comes in; theres an adjustment period. Now Jays opened up and his personality can be himself.
Friction with Urlacher was one perception, with a theory being that Urlacher resented the arrival of a new face of the franchise. Not so.
Urlacher, who was a reluctant franchise figurehead in the first place, told CSNChicago.com at the time, Resent him? I was ready to go to the airport to pick him up.
Adds Urlacher: There were a lot of expectations on him. We traded two first-round picks for him. There was a lot going on around him and not even his doing.
Control issues from above
Cutlers development as a leader of the team in general and of the offense in particular was stunted when he came to Chicago.
Cutler had operated out of a West Coast system in Denver under then-coach Mike Shanahan and quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates. He had options, flexibility and a comfort level with the staff and teammates.
Then he came to Chicago, where Ron Turner also used a West Coast program. But Turner was an autocrat by comparison, running each position-group meeting, for example, and the tension built through the season as Cutler chafed and clearly had neither rapport with Turner nor respect for quarterbacks coach Pep Hamilton.
It was hardly a year for Cutler to feel comfortable exerting any sort of strong leadership role.
Cutler wanted Bates as offensive coordinator after Turners dismissal following that 2009 season. But Bates removed himself from consideration and went to the Seattle Seahawks as a member of Pete Carrolls staff, a gig that ended abruptly after 2010.
The result was the Mike Martz hiring and a new level of control on Cutler. No audibles and a coach whom the game had clearly passed by. Martzs control was lessened with Mike Tice being given increased say in offensive game planning midway through 2010, and midway through 2011 Martz had begun to accept more input from Cutler.
But Martz and Cutler were a deteriorating partnership and Cutler began to increasingly and openly disagree with Martz, including one notable in-game episode.
Ironically, that marked something of turning point with Cutler emerging as a true leader of the offense.
Suddenly, an older guy
Cutlers position owes to another obvious reality: He turned 29 in April. On his current starting offense, only Hester (by five months) and linemen Roberto Garza and Chris Spencer are older.
The leaders of the defense Lance Briggs, Julius Peppers, Charles Tillman, Brian Urlacher have substantially more combined star power (23 Pro Bowls to Cutlers one). But they are more than happy to have Cutler becoming more the de facto team leader. And he has brought some of the humor to his side of the ball that Briggs, Tillman and Urlacher have long brought to theirs.
Hes really funny, Urlacher said. His personality has come out more and more the last couple years which makes it more fun for us, too.