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Jay Cutler’s lost season has presented more questions than answers

Jay Cutler

Jay Cutler

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Updated: January 7, 2014 6:47AM

Quarterback Jay Cutler was on the move.

He twisted and jogged during team stretches. He dropped back and was whacked over his hands with a foam bat during the first individual drill. Then he threw passes and went over his footwork in the next drill.

Cutler’s left leg — the one with the high-ankle sprain — didn’t look restricted. It actually looked good. He looked good.

But he’s out.

Josh McCown will make his fifth start Monday against the Dallas Cowboys. Cutler’s comeback remains on hold, and a once-promising season in a contract year ­remains on ice.

“We want to be very, very careful,” coach Marc Trestman said Thursday. “I was encouraged [Thursday] just by the work that he got in considering the injury wasn’t that long ago. So we’ll see where he is next week. But it was a good first day for him to come out and get some work.”

It has been almost two months since Cutler has played a full game, so 2013 has turned into a lost season.

For all the chatter about using the franchise tag on him recently, it seemingly has been forgotten that this season was supposed to determine whether Cutler truly is a “franchise quarterback” with Trestman at the helm and all the offensive improvements.

This season was supposed to answer all the important questions about Cutler in the last season of his contract. Instead, there are only more questions with McCown playing so well.

Those questions and Cutler’s early production — “Before Jay’s injury, he was playing at a very high level, and we were very pleased with his progress,” general manager Phil Emery recently said on the team’s website — warrant a longer look and another deal, but the main story line coming into 2013 will continue into 2014. He still has to prove himself under Trestman.

Cutler was on the path to proving many things. He was succeeding — passer ratings of 93.2, 97.7, 90.8, 65.6, 128.1 and 106.5 and a 4-2 record in his six full games — while directing an evolving offense before a torn groin and sprained ankle derailed everything. And McCown has played well, but every Bear will tell you that there are throws and plays that Cutler can make that McCown simply cannot.

“I’m sure he’s very frustrated that he’s not playing, certainly,” Trestman said. “But he hasn’t let that reflect in his attitude or in his demeanor in the locker room or in our meetings.”

It’ll help Cutler in contract ­negotiations if he can return and finish the season on a strong, positive note. But the first hurdle is still medical clearance.

“He’s a strong-willed and strong-minded guy,” Trestman said. “[But] he can’t control this decision on Monday other than to continue to work at his rehab.”

Instead of progressing in the offense, Cutler is only “progressing,” as Trestman said, with his recovery.

“More than anything, as a competitor, you want to play,” said Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, who got a six-year, $108 million contract extension in March after playing a full season. “You want to play at a high level. That really matters more than any dollar amount or anything they could do.”

As admirable and beneficial as Cutler’s input has been at Halas Hall and on the sideline, it doesn’t equate to playing and getting all the first-team reps that come with it.

He might come back this season, but he’s behind the eight ball.

“I can’t anticipate how he’s going to be,” Trestman said. “I just know that he’s working toward that. . . . It was good to see him out there working. He made some throws.”

When those throws will come in games is unknown.


Twitter: @adamjahns

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