Bears QB Jay Cutler has ‘The Look’ of a leader
By Sean Jensen firstname.lastname@example.org September 8, 2011 9:02PM
*** TAGS: BEARS, CARDINALS, SUNDAY, SOLDIER FIELD, CHICAGO *** 11-08-09 Soldier Field, Chicago - Jay Cutler (#6) makes calls in the first quarter. - John J. Kim ~ Sun-Times
Updated: November 9, 2011 2:03PM
During the 2010 regular-season finale at Lambeau Field — his only catch-less game of the season — Bears receiver Johnny Knox slipped on the turf and missed a chance to make a sizable gain.
Knox prepared for the immediate repercussion.
“You kind of put your head down because you know it’s coming,” Knox said. “I’ve gotten ‘The Look’ a few times.”
Jay Cutler’s eyes have it.
Cutler has endured a litany of criticisms, and his leadership is chief among them, especially after the departure of offensive co-captain Olin Kreutz. But several high school, college and Bears teammates have his back and insist that — while he’s not overly vocal — Cutler leads by example and speaks up when necessary.
“He doesn’t pretend to be something he’s not,” linebacker Brian Urlacher said. “He’s a good quarterback, he does the right things on the field, he shows up on time, works his [butt] off, and he doesn’t complain.
“There’s different ways to lead, and I don’t think hooting and hollering is the way to lead. I’ve never been a big fan of that.”
Coach Lovie Smith echoed that sentiment, adding that performance is also a key. Once again, Bears players voted him a captain.
“He needs to do his job and play well,” Smith said, “so [teammates] can count on you and know what you’re going to do.”
Not surprisingly, Cutler doesn’t feel any extra pressure to change his leadership approach.
“I’ve said it one time, and I’ll say it a million times: As long as the guys in the locker room are behind me, that’s all that matters,” Cutler recently told the Sun-Times at training camp.
Back in May, Cutler said his parents didn’t raise a finger-pointer.
“I can’t even fathom myself doing it. It’s just not who I am, and it’s not how I was brought up,” Cutler said at the time. “I’m going to take all the punches, I’m going to take all the bullets and I’m going to take all the hits, and whether it’s deserved or not, it just comes with the position.
“If you’re going to be the quarterback of the Chicago Bears or any team, whether you like it or not, it’s a part of the gig.”
So Cutler may take heat, even if a receiver runs the wrong route or an offensive lineman misses his assignment.
But he isn’t afraid to challenge teammates.
“He’d give you ‘The Look,’ ” said Adam Kress, Cutler’s left tackle at Heritage Hills High School in Lincoln City, Ind. “It’s like him saying, ‘Come on, man. You’re better than that.’ ”
But Vanderbilt teammate Steven Bright said Cutler picked his spots carefully, depending on the personality of the player.
“Jay’s always had the ability to know when’s the time to get on somebody, to fire them up, or to say, ‘Don’t worry about it. We’ll get the next one,’ ” Bright said.
Commodores head coach Bobby Johnson noted that Cutler was a three-time captain, pointing to a specific example of his leadership.
“We had some guys messing up and not going to class and doing things they shouldn’t be doing,” Johnson said. “He had an apartment, and he got in front of the team and said, ‘If you all need a place to go and have some fun, come to my apartment. Don’t go downtown. Don’t go to these bars. Come to me.’
“And a bunch of them did.”
Cutler earned even more respect from his Bears teammates because of his handling of the deluge of disapproval from NFL players — past and present — and analysts after he left the NFC title game early in the third quarter with a Grade II MCL tear in his left knee.
“I really commend him for how he handled a lot of that criticism,” linebacker Lance Briggs said. “Because no matter how strong an individual you are, enough criticism — day in and day out — will bother you.
“You may learn how to cope with it, but it bothers you.”
Urlacher said he can’t even imagine how frustrating that must have been for Cutler, but he handled the situation the right way at the start of training camp.
By doing nothing.
“He just came back,” Urlacher said. “He didn’t address it. He just rolled with it.
“The people who were [ticked] off the most were his teammates because you don’t ever want to see people take shots at your teammates, especially a guy you like.”
The perception, the reality
Smith said Cutler hasn’t changed since arriving via trade from the Denver Broncos in April 2009.
“There’s perception, then there’s reality,” Smith said. “The reality is, that’s who Jay Cutler has been the entire time he’s been here.
“Going through the season, there are some tough things. Jay got sacked a lot. A lot of quarterbacks will call out their receivers or different people, try to point the blame to others.
‘‘But Jay Cutler has been a stand-up guy the entire time I’ve known him, so it’s easy for me to back him.”
Smith bristles at any suggestions that Cutler isn’t popular among his teammates or isn’t respected.
“You wonder why I have so much confidence in his role on our football team? It’s based on what he’s done,” Smith said. “That’s what the players have seen.”
Urlacher said he just doesn’t understand the view of Cutler outside of Halas Hall.
“I don’t understand what the perceptions of him is,” Urlacher said. “But I know what ours is on this team, and I think that’s all he’s worried about.”
Besides, this market is starved for some stability at quarterback. Not since Erik Kramer in the mid-1990s have the Bears had a steady quarterback, although he started at least 15 games in only two of his five seasons with the team.
Kreutz was drafted in the third round of the 1998 NFL draft, and he played 13 seasons for the Bears. In late July, Kreutz said Cutler was the best quarterback he’d played with.
“He’s got everything you want in a quarterback,” Kreutz told the Sun-Times. “Once they build that team around him, like they are now, they’re going to contend for championships and/or win them because that’s how good he is.
“[Maybe] he doesn’t come out or carry himself the way the people want, but he’s an unbelievable teammate, and he’s just more talented than any other quarterback in the league.”
Urlacher and Briggs didn’t mask their feelings, either.
Said Urlacher, “No one is even in the same ballpark.”
Said Briggs, “When you think about it, it’s not close.
“Give the man a little time, and we’ll do it.”