BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — For Jay Cutler the expectations have always been near max-levels. That happens when the Almighty blesses you with a thunderbolt for a right arm.
Those expectations ramped up a level when the Bears lavished $54 million guaranteed on him for three years, an amount in the range of the for-sure money Green Bay gave Aaron Rodgers. The expectations are now in the fullest possible bloom, entering the second year with a coaching staff to his liking, behind an offensive line he trusts and surrounded by so-called skill position players the equal of any in the NFL.
Cutler already responded to being surrounded by the cast of Martellus Bennett, Matt Forte, Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall by posting the best passer rating of his career. But a note of perspective is that even with those weapons and that coaching support system, his rating was 89.2, which is lower than anything Rodgers has done since become the Packers’ starter, anything Drew Brees has done in his eight years as New Orleans’ starter or Peyton Manning has done in his last 10 seasons.
An 89.2 is not good enough for a championship quarterback. The organization is expecting more, Cutler expects more and there are signs that the Jay Cutler 2014 already is taking the steps toward another level of operation.
Besides something as small as getting out of his cart to sign autographs for fans on Monday, “it’s obvious in practice that Jay is taking more and more control by the day,” said offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer. “Not that he didn't before — he did — but with his comfort level with all of the things we’re trying to get done, he’s able to solve some of his own problems on the field, even when he didn't maybe have that answer taught to him yet.
“He’s doing an excellent job, as well as the other quarterbacks, but it’s really helped that Jay has studied really hard all offseason. He’s worked on his technique. He’s been one of the hardest working guys on the team this offseason.”
The decision-making issues are not necessarily all resolved just because Cutler is in more control. Cutler was always in some kind of control when he forced throws where they didn’t belong; as recently as Monday morning’s practice, Cutler tried to force a throw to Marshall in the deep middle, only to have it tipped by middle linebacker Jon Bostic and intercepted by nickel back Kelvin Hayden.
But the new coaching staff has designed the offense to utilize Cutler’s footspeed as well as his throwing abilities. The plan is for him to use more of his instincts, a decidedly different approach from what Cutler operated under with Mike Martz, for example.
“It happens both in the protection game, because of his acumen,” said coach Marc Trestman. “He’s played this game a long time. And he’s a nine-, 10-year veteran. He’s seen it all.
“He’s also doing it within the framework of our passing game. He’s able to get guys in the right position, change routes quickly and get the best and most out of each and every play. That is kind of where he is. He is kind of fixing it at the line of scrimmage when he needs to get it done.”