This time a year ago, Jay Cutler was making minor news with an observation that not everyone on the team seemed to have bought into the new regime of Marc Trestman. That encompassed myriad elements:
Veteran members of the defense long accustomed to and comfortable with Lovie Smith, and perhaps resentful of his replacement?
Members of an offense, beginning with its quarterback, that had gone through regimes of Ron Turner, Mike Martz and Mike Tice and were now being asked to buy into another new guy?
Or just a lot of players throughout the locker room that was now scrambled away from position groupings by a coach who wanted everyone to have lunch regularly with someone new and get to know teammates?
Probably all of the above, and perhaps not unexpectedly. But the potential for mismatches and resistance was there, Cutler knew it and was in that maelstrom, and there was a roster that would have 28 players in contract years, including 13 starters.
Now the quarterback has the new contract he was playing to earn last year and the buy in this year has been palpable through practices with an energy that was sometimes suspect 12 months ago.
“There were a lot of questions last year going into the season,” Cutler acknowledged. “’Would I be back? How would everything work out with Tress? How would it the offense work?’
“So this year, there are still questions, but they’re questions about are we going to go out and perform and do what we did last year. I think that’s a better feeling going into camp for myself. I’m excited to go out there with these guys. I’ve talked to them in the last couple weeks and everyone is pretty amped up about it.”
“Amped” in July does not mean wins in September. But bad chemistry and an absence of buy in to systems or teammates can mean a whole that is less than the sum of the parts.
But the Bears bought in to Cutler — literally, to the degree of $54 million over the next three seasons — in no small measure because of not only his talent, which has never been the concern with him, but also largely because of what they saw from him in terms of buying into what Trestman and GM Phil Emery were both espousing as well as doing.
Indeed, it was less that talent of arm and legs than the leadership that was in question this time a year ago.
“I think it’s just the day-to-day involvement with the team, concern for his teammates, communication that he has with them and the work he’s done with them to try and help them along and mentor some of the younger guys and do those types of things,” Trestman said. “I don’t think there’s any one thing. I just think he’s gone about carrying himself like a quarterback should in this league, walking around the building connecting with people throughout the building and then the work ethic and the time you put into the football side of it is critically important.”
When Trestman was hired as Bears coach, his reservations about Cutler being the long-sought franchise quarterback was apparent. Emery appeared to be more convinced than his head coach.
As recently as the start of training camp last July, Cutler was still in a prove-it mode with his new head coach. Not now.
“Obviously, I feel better [about Cutler],” Trestman said. “I mean, I should feel better about it. We know each other better. We’re a year into it. I have a lot of confidence in him and what he does off the field and on the field to prepare to play the game. And his commitment to the team.”