Updated: October 7, 2013 1:33PM
Jay Cutler kept things simple. Giving his receivers too many options would have resulted in ‘‘96 different pizzas.’’
And the late-night meetings he arranged during organized team activities weren’t about stuffing their faces — they were about getting a better grasp of new coach Marc Trestman’s complex offense.
‘‘It was just a new offense,’’ Cutler said. ‘‘I don’t know if [Trestman] did it intentionally or unintentionally, [but] he put a lot of pressure on the quarterbacks of learning the offense, and in turn, the best way for us to learn the offense was to coach the other guys and help them learn the offense and the formations.’’
The pizza meetings are an example of Cutler’s leadership, which often receives little attention in discussions about the enigmatic Bears quarterback. Part of the reason why is that it’s a story that Cutler doesn’t like to share.
‘‘Geez, man,’’ he said with a guilty grin when asked about the meetings. ‘‘We’ve got a lot of open mouths around here.’’
In an interview with the Sun-Times on Thursday, Cutler talked about his role as a leader of the Bears in what has been widely called the biggest season of his eight-year career. It’s a role that’s an essential part of his makeup if you ask his teammates and coaches. It’s just more prevalent this season.
‘‘His leadership role has stepped up tremendously,’’ cornerback Charles Tillman said. ‘‘I think he’s doing the little things better.’’
Cutler handles the role differently than other quarterbacks do. And he had to bide his time assuming it, with the Bears being a defensively driven team led by linebacker Brian Urlacher. Out of respect, Cutler didn’t want to overstep anyone.
But he knows he must own the role now in order for the Bears to be successful.
‘‘I don’t really like talking about this or really self-promoting myself by any means,’’ he said. ‘‘With [Trestman] here and the new offense, it’s just trying to help the guys be the best they can on the offensive side of the ball.
‘‘When I got here, it was a very well-established locker room with great guys and a bunch of great leaders. It wasn’t a situation where you could just come in and be vocal and be an immediate leader. You had to work yourself into it.
‘‘I feel like our locker room has gotten a little bit younger. It’s taken some guys, including myself, some stepping up and helping these young guys out. And this is my eighth year, so I’ve been around. I’ve seen some things.’’
General manager Phil Emery didn’t know what he was looking at. It was hours before the Bears’ final exhibition game against the Cleveland Browns on Aug. 29 and he saw his first-team offense going through plays.
‘‘The question I had: Was that Marc or was that Jay?’’ Emery said. ‘‘So I asked Marc and he said, ‘No, that’s Jay. Jay came to me and told me that he thought we needed to do that.’ So that tells me a lot about Marc and his staff.’’
And it says a lot about Cutler, too.
Cutler sarcastically says, “Thanks, Phil” when asked about it — just like he gives backup Josh McCown credit for adding pizzas to the OTA meetings. He says center Roberto Garza and left tackle Jermon Bushrod were behind the extra repetitions before the Browns game.
‘‘We just wanted to get some work, so it’s just not a wasted day,’’ Cutler said. ‘‘It was kind of a group effort on a lot of guys’ parts to get out there and spend 30 to 45 minutes of just hitting plays and running through things.’’
But it was Cutler directing traffic.
It’s his willingness to teach that has the Bears’ new staff really enthused.
‘‘I think any quarterback on any team is expected to be the leader — that’s No. 1,’’ offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said. ‘‘Now, people lead in different ways. The thing that Jay been able to do is quickly learn the offense and then be the director on the field.
‘‘He’s done nothing with this staff to not think that he’s a leader. . . . He’s had extra sessions with receivers at night going over scripts at hotels. He’s done extra to try to get this entire passing game together. You can’t ask for anything more than that.’’
All of it has helped.
‘‘It’s part of the reason why we’re so fast on offense now, having those extra meetings,’’ receiver Joe Anderson said.
Added Bushrod: ‘‘He’s the type of guy that you want at the head of your football team.’’
Cutler’s teammates nod in acknowledgement when asked about how important this season is for him. They know he’s in the final year of his contract, like many others, but that his failures will be more magnified, especially with Trestman in charge.
This has been called a make-or-break season for Cutler, although he doesn’t see it that way.
‘‘He always works hard,’’ Tillman said. ‘‘I mean, this year, a contract year and all that, it’s definitely a motivation for anybody.’’
But the one real noticeable difference is that Cutler is more vocal. He may not be giving rah-rah speeches, but there’s a lot of dialogue.
‘‘He’s aware of everything that’s going on,’’ Garza said.
Cutler’s situation hasn’t changed him, his teammates say.
‘‘He hasn’t changed from that standpoint,’’ Tillman said. ‘‘He is who he is. He’s not your typical quarterback. He’s comfortable being himself, not being fake, and you have to respect that.’’
In four seasons, Cutler ranks first in team history in two categories (passer rating, completions) and second in three others (completion percentage, yards and touchdown passes).
More always was expected. His sideline demeanor and chest-bumping blowups have overshadowed (and been more scrutinized) than his 34-22 record as the Bears’ starting quarterback.
“In my years here, I haven’t really done offensively what I think that we’re capable of doing or what I’m capable of doing, numbers-wise and wins-wise,” Cutler said. ‘‘Hopefully, better years are to come.’’
Even if he succeeds, Cutler knows he’ll always have his critics.
‘‘You could be the MVP and people are going to be naysayers,’’ he said. ‘‘I mean, you could win the Super Bowl and people are going to question you.’’
But if success comes, the naysayers will dwindle, and a new contract may come.
‘‘[My family is] definitely comfortable here,’’ Cutler said. ‘‘I’d like to end my career here. But we’ll see how this year plays out.’’