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New season, new coach, inspires new attitude about Jay Cutler

Updated: April 17, 2013 2:41PM



Are you ready to cut Jay Cutler some slack?

I am.

It’s a new year for football and there is much new about the Bears, so why not turn over the leaves, let bygones be bygones (bye-bye, Brian Urlacher!) and look in the bushes for new birdies?

What we see, first and foremost, is Cutler, possibly the best quarterback the Bears have had in the last half-century. Or not.

It’s all on him this season. The pressure is like a vise. And how he responds to it is all that counts. A new coach, assistant coaches, tight end, linebackers, on and on.

Cutler has won one playoff game in four seasons with the Bears, yet everyone knows he has the talent and the arm. And now it seems he has the offensive players around him, from running back Matt Forte to new tight end Martellus Bennett to best pal/receiver Brandon Marshall. And the NFL draft next week might bring him more goodies.

So this is his season, the season of proof.

And here he comes, jogging toward the media after the first practice in the Walter Payton Dome at the first minicamp in Lake Forest. He’s dressed in orange-on-orange (offensive colors) with orange shoes, blue socks and a blue Bears cap on his head. There is a big orange ‘‘C’’ on the cap. If this sounds like the flag of the Dutch royal family, so be it. Cutler is responsible for a lot, but not Bears fashion.

He has a week’s growth of beard — gross but tres cool — and he is neither snarly nor snarky. Crazy. There is no ‘‘Cutler Face,’’ no open disgust for the collective media or for the individual humans who constitute it.

He trots into the sea of cameras, microphones and bodies and seems at ease, dignified, ready. This might not sound like much, but being the most scrutinized athlete in Chicago sports can’t be easy for anyone, no matter how mature, how prepared. But Cutler seems to embraces it.

This, friends, is wonderful.

See, Cutler isn’t a boy, a fledgling or a wannabe anymore. He is 30, entering his eighth NFL season and his fifth with the Bears.

He’s getting married, has a son and likely will be known as a Bear in perpetuity — unless he messes the bed this season and is tossed out the way Urlacher was. Not that Urlacher was tossed, but he was, as they say, disrespected by the Bears’ contract offer. Sorry.

Produce or go. It’s the simple but harsh reality of pro ball. And when you turn 30, it’s time to rev it up for real or leave.

Plus, when so much has changed around you, you had better be adaptable, smart and talented.

As someone who hasn’t loved Cutler for the last few seasons, I am willing to say now, so far from next fall, that Cutler is all three. Truce, remember?

‘‘Any time you come into a new system, it’s hard; it’s like learning a new language,’’ Cutler said when asked about the atmosphere under new coach Marc Trestman. ‘‘Your mind is trying to picture the plays in your head, and sometimes it’s a little fuzzy. But it’s fun. The coaches are making it really fun for us. They’re challenging us.’’

Cutler, I believe, is smart. One thing I had forgotten about is that he is a big fellow. He is 6-4. Standing here looking at him on an even surface is different than watching him on a huge field, a
TV monitor or a podium. He is tall and sturdy.

But I feel he is smart and instinctive and has a sense of spatial relationships that most of us don’t have. New offensive coordinator, new quarterbacks coach, new playbook. Who has to know it all, where everybody goes? Have it ingrained, like the alphabet?

The quarterback.

To want to do that and to feel it’s an enjoyable challenge takes a special guy. Because if you don’t get all of it right, it’s not like you screwed up a computer printout. No, you get crushed by a 280-pound defensive end with slobber on his facemask.

‘‘To learn a whole new verbiage and go out there and practice as many plays as we did as fast as we did, it says a lot,’’ Cutler said.

And the practice was fast. Trestman even ran along with the players as they took passes upfield or returned fumbles downfield.

Cutler doesn’t get the money hugely paid quarterbacks such as Joe Flacco or even Tony Romo make. And he says that doesn’t bother him.

‘‘Yeah, that’s some big numbers being thrown out there,’’ he said with his wry smile.

Win the Super Bowl this season, and those are his numbers, too.

Plus, he will have our everlasting thanks.



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