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Jay Cutler has never looked more comfortable with the Bears

Bears quarterback Jay Cutler said Tuesday he regrets bumping J'Marcus Webb during last Thursday's game against Packers. |  Scott

Bears quarterback Jay Cutler said Tuesday he regrets bumping J'Marcus Webb during last Thursday's game against the Packers. | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

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Updated: May 23, 2012 6:27PM

As good as Jay Cutler is, he’s never better than when he’s comfortable.

That was the palpable difference Wednesday as Cutler was effortlessly slinging the ball around to wide receivers like he always does at the Bears’ offseason practice at Halas Hall.

In Cutler’s fourth season in Chicago, the Bears have finally put him in the nice, cushy comfort zone that brings out the best in him: He has his favorite receiver in 6-4 three-time Pro Bowler Brandon Marshall; another tall target in 6-3 rookie Alshon Jeffery; he has his former quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates; and an offensive coordinator in Mike Tice who will utilize an offensive line to protect the quarterback first and execute the play second.

Already it makes a difference. Just being able to get his point across without telling the offensive coordinator to bleep off seems to be a relief to Cutler.

‘‘I think Jeremy [Bates] has a really good feel of what I like to do and what I don’t like to do,’’ Cutler said after the Bears’ second OTA [organized team activity] workout. ‘‘There are plays out there today that I told him, ‘I don’t like them. Let’s think about getting rid of them.’ He’s fine with that.

‘‘It’s give-and-take. That’s a breath of fresh air around here — being able to give ideas and everyone giving ideas and let’s pick the best ones that work for everybody.’’

Cutler is undergoing yet another transition to a new offense after Tice replaced the previous coordinator. That usually involves an initial step backward. But maybe not with the transition to the offense under Tice and Bates.

‘‘It’s something I’m comfortable with,’’ Cutler said when asked what he likes most about the new offense. ‘‘It [caters to] my strengths and what I’m able to do and I’ve had success with it in the past.

‘‘There are a lot of similarities, there are some differences. We didn’t want to completely overhaul things. But in the passing game we definitely wanted to make some key changes — not only to help me, but to help the offensive guys and put them in a position to be successful.’’

Having Marshall and Jeffery is an advantage Mike Martz did not have.

‘‘It changes things: where you can throw the ball, when you can throw the ball,’’ Cutler said. ‘‘Those guys are getting better and better each day. Devin Hester I think is probably having the best camp of all the receivers. So we’ve got a lot of weapons. I think management is going to have a tough job figuring out what four, five or six guys we’re going to keep.’’

The Cutler-Marshall connection is the launch point of a potential quantum leap for an offense that finished 24th in the NFL in yards and 17th in points scored last season. With Cutler at quarterback, Marshall had 94 receptions for 1,238 yards and seven touchdowns in 2007 and 103 receptions for 1,256 yards and six touchdowns in 2008. The Bears haven’t had a receiver with more than 1,200 yards since Marcus Robinson in 1999 (84-1,400 nine touchdowns).

‘‘I think we’re two guys who are really passionate about the game, grew up playing ball our whole life, and we really, truly love the game,’’ Marshall said when asked why he and Cutler work so well together. ‘‘But I think the most important thing is we see the field the same. What I mean by that is, a lot of times, you have to wing it out there sometimes, and we seem to be on the same page when we do that, and that’s what the great ones do: See the field the same way.’’

That in some respects is the polar opposite of Cutler’s chemistry with anybody except Earl Bennett in his three seasons with the Bears — especially the two seasons under Martz, when too often receivers zigged when Cutler expected them to zag.

With Cutler, Marshall, Jeffery, running back Matt Forte if he signs a contract and a healthy Gabe Carimi at right tackle, the Bears have their best chance yet to finally have an offense that carries their defense.

Bears fans have drowned in that hope before. After signing Pro Bowl wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad and drafted Cedric Benson fourth overall n 2005, the Bears ranked 29th in total offense; when they traded for Cutler in 2009 they were 23rd; when they hired Martz in 2010 they were 30th. They’ve been in the top 10 in total yards once in the last 16 years (1999). The last time they ranked in the top 10 and made the playoffs was in 1986.

But Cutler and Marshall have some work to do in that regard as well. In their two prolific seasons together in Denver, the Broncos were 7-9 and 8-8 and failed to make the playoffs. In 2008, in fact, the Broncos ranked second in the NFL in total yards, but 16th in points scored — a telltale sign of underachievement.

‘‘In 2008 we finished No. 2 in offense, and everyone said we were really successful, and even we walk around sometimes saying it,’’ Marshall said. ‘‘But when I look at film now, I think we were terrible, and I say that humbly.

‘‘We were just young and immature out there on the field, not understanding the big picture of the offense and the game itself. To see where we’re at now, where our football mind is now, it’s going to be really dangerous. I’m excited to really fall into this offense with a new mind.’’

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