BOURBONNAIS – When Aaron Kromer came to the Bears as offensive coordinator and offensive line coach under Marc Trestman, it was notable perhaps what he identified as the first priority of the new Bears coaching staff.
It was not the automatic “fix” of the offensive line and its pass blocking. It was starting behind that group.
“The quarterback throwing the ball quickly or picking it up and changing the protection scheme, that’ll be the No. 1 thing we’ll do as a group,” Kromer said.
“The No. 2 thing is, coaching the offensive line, it’s important that we have some blocking schemes taken care of in the running game that will be the biggest advantage to us. I’ll start there and Marc and the skill group will start developing routes and we’ll come together as a staff and make sure we all agree on everything that’s done.”
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The work on the centerpiece of that first priority -– the modified makeover of quarterback Jay Cutler –- has been going on now for some months. It has not always gone exactly the way members coaching staff laid it out.
And they are more than fine with that.
“Whatever it is, he’d better buy into it and we’d better have the answers,” quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh told CSNChicago.com. “We don’t expect him to change everything he’s doing just because we said so. We want him to ask questions.
“We take a lot of pride in what we teach, we believe in it, but it doesn’t mean that we’re always right. He’s helped us.”
Developing muscle memory
Kromer’s priority of “quickly” with Cutler and all the quarterbacks, and Trestman’s “hurry up!” drumbeat, does not simply mean fast. The overall in fact has carried a sense of a John Wooden axiom from UCLA, “Be quick, but don’t hurry.”
Daily drills begin with virtual slow-motion drop backs, over and over. Cutler’s natural athleticism has never been an issue; where it takes him and what he does with it is. Indeed, in some cases the reshaping has included slowing him down, not accelerating his play.
“It’s repetition and it’s him believing that ‘what you’re asking me to do is going to fit with what we’re trying to do,” Cavanaugh said. “’If you’re asking me to take this kind of a drop, which is a little different than what I did in the past, do I see the benefit of it downfield?’
“If someone’s told him to take three quick steps and we’re telling him to take three slower steps, does it fit with what we’re trying to get done? And he’s been very good about it.”
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Cutler was taking longer than Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Joe Flacco, Matt Schaub, Drew Brees and Matt Ryan, among others, to throw his passes, according to an in-season analysis by ProFootballFocus.com.
He also trailed only Russell Wilson, Alex Smith and Michael Vick in “time to sack,” and the latter two lost significant time last season with mid-season concussions.
Perhaps the critical element is shaping Cutler’s mental processes: the ball distribution, the faster release, the elements of an offense that all starts with him but is ultimately about the “weapons” he is supposed to get the ball to.
“That's how the offense is built,” Cutler said. “It's similar to what we did in Denver. Get back and get it to those guys. I've got a lot of talent on my outside so the faster we can get it to them and let them work, the better.”
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The “teaching” is going both ways, too.
“If it’s something he believes in or has been doing, different than what we’ve been saying,” Cavanaugh said, “we look at it.”
No guarantees of success
The pedigree of the new coaching staff, however, is no guarantee of success and permanent buy in for Cutler.
Trestman may be a master of quarterback development, based on notable successes with Rich Gannon, Scott Mitchell and Bernie Kosar, quality players but whose innate talents will not be confused with Cutler’s.
Kromer may have been a part of developing five different Pro Bowl offensive linemen in his five seasons with New Orleans, and being an integral part of the offense built on and around Drew Brees.
Cavanaugh may be a 14-year NFL quarterback with two Super Bowl rings as a player and one as an offensive coordinator, and a resume that includes working as Steve Young’s quarterbacks coach.
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But Cutler had Mike Shanahan in Denver. He came to Chicago and had an instant anti-connection with Pep Hamilton, who then left to Stanford and was Andrew Luck’s offensive coordinator and position coach.
Cutler had a combustible mix with Mike Martz that deteriorated even amid a 17-8 stretch as a starter under the man who coached Kurt Warner and Marc Bulger, and reached two Super Bowls. And Cutler posted the second-worst passer rating of his career last season despite adding his preferred quarterbacks coach in Jeremy Bates.
This is different
But whereas Martz was a doctrinaire insistent on his styles, and Bates hadn’t managed to instill a foundation of good fundamentals in the time he and Cutler were together in Denver, this is not the same type of coaches. Nor is it the same Cutler.
“They're quarterback-friendly and they want to make it as easy as possible on myself and the other QBs,” Cutler said. “So it's fun to work with those guys. They understand offense, they understand what we're going through and they want to put us in a position to be successful.”
And it is ultimately up to Cutler in large part whether the mix and makeover will be successful with a quarterback entering his eighth NFL season.
“It becomes our responsibility to have an open, honest discussion of what we’re expecting, and why,” Cavanaugh said. “And it’s his responsibility to say, ‘Why?’ And we’d better have a reason.
“It can’t just because we say so.”