Captain Cutler ready to lead Vandy to new heights

Vanderbilt quarterback Jay Cutler had his 15 minutes of fame Tuesday at SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala. The sophomore from Santa Claus, Ind. faced a series of questions from reporters. Here are some of the questions, and Jay's answers. (Part 2 in a series of reports from SEC Media Days.)

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Q: LSU quarterback Matt Mauck grew up near Santa Claus, Ind. Do you know him?

A: Yeah. I was probably in eighth grade when he was playing basketball. He was a great player. Excellent athlete. His parents probably live three blocks from my house now. I know him through association, but we're not really good friends or anything. I've never gotten a chance to talk to him, but I look forward to playing them next year.

Q: How have you matured since last season?

A: I've grown up as a person and a player. I've taken a leadership role, and it made me realize how important I am to this team, and how much that means to a lot of people.

Q: Bobby Johnson was talking about last season when you had to read in the papers some stuff that was true [about an alleged vandalism incident], some stuff that wasn't. How tough was that?

A: It wasn't fun at all. About three fourths of the stuff wasn't true. It got blown out of proportion. But that comes with it. I made a mistake, and I had to pay the price for it. The team is behind me, and the coaches are behind me. We've grown up, and I've moved on. It was a big deal in Nashville-- I guess they didn't have anything better to write about. I just played the next game against Georgia, and moved on.

Q: Do you think you'll have a chance to make bigger plays this year? Do you think some of the shackles will come off the offense?

A: Definitely. We all know the offense now. The offense is mine by instinct. We've got some speedy receivers, and three very capable backs. Last year we were kind of confined. They really wouldn't let us do a whole lot. Everything came through the sidelines. This year we ought to open it up a little more and take a few shots down the field and stretch the defense.

Q: How do you feel about opening with a conference game?

A: Very happy. It's got us focused. It sets the stage for the whole year. We've got Eli Manning coming in there, a Heisman candidate, a great player. We've got it up on our board in the weight room, how many days are left. It's going to be a huge one. Everyone wants to win the first game, and get off on the right foot.

Q: What do you remember about the Ole Miss game last year? That was one of several you guys had a chance to win.

A: 45-38. We had the ball with a minute left. We were driving down the field. Our protection broke down and I got hit and fumbled. We came back from a 21-point deficit. The defense held up their end of the game. It was one of many that we could have won.

Q: With your defense this year, is it critical for the offense to be productive on offense?

A: Yeah. We've got some defensive linemen coming back, but for the most part we're going to have all-new linebackers, and we have two new safeties. They're going to have their problems like the offense did last year. They're going to let some things slide and give up some big plays. So the offense has to be consistent day-in and day-out, make touchdowns and start us off.

Q: How close are you [to turning the program around]?

A: We're close. Very close. If it's not this year, it has to be next year. We're all young, but we're experienced. We were all thrown into the fire last year, the coaches included. This will be their second year. They know what's going on, what to expect. This year we're going to be almost there, I think.

Q: Chris Young had to sit out last year. How do you think that will affect him this year?

A: It's just like me when I redshirted. He was just a young kid and had to sit out a season, not be able to play football, which is something he loves. I'm sure he realized how important he is to our football team. Chris had a tough road. He came in, he was going to be the savior of Vanderbilt football. So far.. he's done his part, but he hasn't lived up to the hype. This year, after sitting out last year, he's definitely going to make an impact. He might not start for us this year, but somewhere on the football field he's going to make a difference. He might not be a team captain, but he takes a leadership role. He gets the team together and gets the receivers going. We've definitely seen a lot of maturity from him.

Q: How big can he be for the team this year? Can he help remedy some things at receiver?

A: Oh yeah. We had two "semi-fast" receivers last year. They weren't going to break anything. This year, Brandon Smith, Erik Davis, they can make that happen. They can go 80 yards. That will help a lot if they can do that for us.

Q: What kind of relationship do you have with Benji Walker?

A: We have a great relationship. When I came in, he was my host on my recruiting visit. He has been there through the whole controversy of me and him starting. I won out and had a pretty good year last year. We remain good friends. We talk. He's going to a different school right now, and I wish the best for him.

Q: I heard you took all your offensive linemen home with you this summer. Talk about why you did that, and how it went.

A: A QB and his offensive linemen have to have a great relationship. My life's in their hands. I don't have eyes in the back of my head. I've got to be able to trust those guys. If they love me, they're going to do everything in their power to block for me. We just hung out like we do at school. They ate a truckload! We know each other, but it was just a bonding experience to get away from campus. We go to my house a lot. I've had as many as 12 people there before at one time.

Q: Coach Johnson said you should be vastly improved as far as making mental mistakes this year.

A: Yeah, throwing where I should throw it, not throwing it when I shouldn't, and tucking it and running. There were many opportunities last year when a guy was open and I just missed him. I wasn't as accurate as I'd like to be last year. I think that's going to improve quite a bit. We worked on that in the spring. Those mistakes come as a freshman. As a sophomore I know more. It's going to pay off.

Q: Are you surprised that Jovan Haye is doing so well, having only played football for four years?

A: Jovan's a freak. He came in weighing only about 225, was going to be a linebacker. He's 260 now and can still run the same. He's just a natural athlete. He's going to excel wherever he is on the field.


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