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Jay Cutler needs to fill leadership role for Bears

Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler right looks throw as offensive coordinator Mike Martz looks during NFL football training camp Tuesday

Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, right, looks to a throw as offensive coordinator Mike Martz looks on during NFL football training camp Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2011, at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

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Updated: November 16, 2011 1:23AM

If there was one thing I thought I knew going into this Bears season, it was that Jay Cutler was not a leader, could never be a leader and most likely was genetically incapable of being a leader.

No matter how hard the team tried pushing him in that direction, Cutler was always going to be to leading what Rush Limbaugh was to rapping. That’s what it looked like to someone who viewed the quarterback as consistently distant with his teammates on the sidelines.

But with the departure of center Olin Kreutz, it’s clear I’m going to have to reconsider my opinion of what a leader is. Look at the Bears’ offense. Who is there for players to follow? Who has the experience, the success, the results and the personality to get a team to follow him?

No one. Matt Forte? Too quiet and not enough of a track record. Devin Hester? On special teams, yes. Roberto Garza? Do you really want a guard to be the leader of your squad?

Of all of the players on offense, Cutler is the only one with the experience and ability to command attention. And he has the football in his hands most of the time.

Now, this is not to say that Cutler needs to turn into a rah-rah player who will work his teammates into a lather with a stirring pregame speech. He has a hard-enough time making eye contact with people during a conversation. Believing that he’s going to start decorating everyone’s lockers seems a little unrealistic at this point.

But Cutler can be a great leader by throwing for 4,000 yards and cutting down on his interceptions this season. That’s going to make people want to follow him more than any forced efforts to rally the troops. You can be the biggest jerk in the world, but if you play the game well and you play it hard, your inherent jerkiness becomes less an issue. Suddenly, you’re not such a bad guy, and the media starts doing gushing feature stories on your heretofore-unknown leadership qualities. You decide to take your offensive linemen out to dinner once a week, and you find yourself being compared to Bono.

A quarterback doesn’t have to worry about receivers’ devotion. They’re always going to suck up because they think it helps them get the ball more often. Roy Williams already is trying to elbow his way into Cutler’s heart.

“I want the city of Chicago to ­believe in this guy and back him up,’’ Williams said. “Of course he’s going to make mistakes. Who doesn’t? He’s my guy.’’

Seeing as how Williams has been in a Bears uniform less than a week, he might want to hold off a bit on the engagement ring.

Let’s assume that, at 28, Cutler is not going to change his stripes. Let’s assume he’s not going to suddenly discover the Knute Rockne within. Officials for his previous team, the Broncos, tried to get him to deactivate his human-contact shield, to no avail. The Bears haven’t seemed to care much about his aloofness, and the result for Cutler has been two years of rocky public relations.

But people who have been around him lately think he might be opening up a little more — even to, gulp, the media. Maybe he’s maturing. Or maybe what we’re seeing is a guy simply excited about getting back to work after the lockout. Talk to him in two weeks after he’s sick of Bourbonnais.

But he has to be the one who leads this offense. He’s the one who has to tell the offensive line it has to get its act together. He’s the one who has to encourage his teammates, even if it’s just a pat on the back.

He’s the only one who can decide if he wants to lead this team. Coach Lovie Smith can talk all he wants about Cutler as a leader, as if talking about it will make it happen, but it’s up to the quarterback to lead, however he chooses to do it.

He tried to play with a torn knee ligament during the NFC Championship Game last season, and that should count for something. The people who think he wimped out in the biggest game of his career see it the other way, but they have been misinformed from the start. His teammates wouldn’t have jumped to his defense if they thought he was being less than a total competitor.

There are still leadership questions. He stayed away from backup quarterback Caleb Hanie during that same game, trying, he said, to give the young player space. That’s not leadership. It made Cutler look self-centered, too wound up in his own troubles to lend a hand to an inexperienced teammate.

The moping, or what has been perceived as moping, has to stop.

Cutler has a wonderful opportunity to go in a different direction this season. And he gets to be in front.

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