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Lockout would cost Cutler valuable time with Martz

Quarterback Jay Cutler’s passer rating improved by 10 points his first seasworking with offensive coordinator Mike Martz. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

Quarterback Jay Cutler’s passer rating improved by 10 points in his first season working with offensive coordinator Mike Martz. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: May 14, 2011 4:57AM

Anyone with a vested interest in the Bears, and the offense in particular, should be rooting for the NFL and the NFL Players Association to agree on a new collective-bargaining agreement.

If the NFL locks out its players — which they could do after the CBA expires March 4 — the Bears and quarterback Jay Cutler will be among the losers.

Such a decision by NFL owners means players cannot utilize team facilities and communicate with coaches.

And despite his improvement — his passer rating improved by 10 points — Cutler clearly needs to refine his mechanics, especially if he’s going to continue to develop under offensive coordinator Mike Martz.

“[Martz is] very technique-minded and technique-oriented,” NFL Network analyst Kurt Warner said. “That’s something I still see Jay struggle with so much.”

Warner, who under the direction of Martz led the St. Louis Rams to two Super Bowl appearances, including one win, said Martz broke him down and built him up again, hammering home the importance of sound fundamentals.

“[Cutler] hops around, and he’s not as stable,” Warner said, noting that Cutler gets away with that in some instances because of his exceptional arm strength. “That’s one thing I would guess that they’ll continue to work on.”

Work in progress

During his final interview of the season, days before the NFC title game, Martz said Cutler’s footwork could improve.

“And he knows that,” Martz said. “You can’t go through a lifetime with those kinds of habits and fix them in one season.”

During the season, Martz said Cutler worked on his footwork twice a week for about 20 minutes each time. But he said Cutler has a tendency to “drift a little bit” when they add new things.

“To say you can just go out there and say your footwork is not good, we’re going to do a few drills and fix it, it doesn’t work like that,” Martz said. “He’s had a whole career of running around and being in a make-it-happen kind of mode.”

Former Bears quarterback Jim Miller said there’s a dual-edged sword with Cutler that many other quarterbacks don’t have to deal with.

“The problem with Jay is, because he’s so athletic, you don’t want to curtail him too much because that takes from that part of his game,” said Miller, an analyst for Comcast SportsNet and Sirius NFL Radio. “But I get upset watching him because he could be so much better. He could be lights-out if he cleans up his footwork and fundamentals. All those things are correctable.”

Critics abound

Two of the most outspoken critics of Cutler’s mechanics are ESPN analysts Trent Dilfer and Steve Young, both former quarterbacks with Super Bowl rings.

Before the NFL title game, Dilfer said Cutler’s core problem is “laziness with his mechanics.”

Dilfer said that problem limited him from fulfilling his potential.

“You look at a guy like Jay Cutler and your jaw drops with all of the potential he has,” Dilfer said. “But then you are frustrated because you wonder, ‘Does he not understand how good he could be if he just fixed and dedicated himself to fixing some very basic principles of his mechanics?’ ”

Dilfer said those flaws tend to surface on critical downs, situations and games. He said quarterbacks like Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Philip Rivers don’t miss routine throws.

“Why? Because mechanically they are so sound, and in crunch situations, their body responds the way it should and they are able to deliver the ball on target. Jay, too often, doesn’t.

“You can make a lot of excuses for him why he does it. But ultimately, it’s because his mechanics fall apart in those situations.”

Last week, Rodgers poked fun at his friend Cutler.

“Everybody throws off their front foot,” Rodgers said. “Except for my buddy in Chicago.”

Rodgers was teasing Cutler. But the Packers quarterback is one of the most fundamentally sound in the league.

“I call him Robo Rodgers,” Miller said. “He’s compact, and his footwork is flawless.”

But Miller said Rodgers has had the benefit of playing under coach Mike McCarthy his entire career and developing each season.

Cutler needs that sort of continuity, Miller said.

“Jay can get there, but he has to have the ‘want to’ to be great, and the discipline to be able to do that,” Miller said. “He did a much better job this year of checking himself and not throwing dumb interceptions. Now if he can take it to the next level, with his footwork and things like that, then he can play to the level of an Aaron Rodgers.”

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