Updated: July 3, 2012 9:16AM
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, his former quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates and an offensive coordinator in Mike Tice whose offensive line will 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.
‘‘[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 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 didn’t 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 is probably having the best camp of all the receivers. So we’ve got a lot of weapons. 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 had 1,400 in 1999.
‘‘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, 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.’’