The Chicago Bears announced today that Jay Cutler will undergo surgery this week to repair his broken right thumb. Yet coach Lovie Smith said today the team's starting quarterback will be back before the season ends.
"He has a right thumb injury, he's having surgery soon and he'll be back this year," said Smith. "We're disappointed and right now we feel bad for Jay. But for our football team, we'll be okay for a while."
Smith admitted losing Cutler is a big blow to the club's goal of winning a Super Bowl this year but it's not going to completely derail this team.
"We will miss Jay but we'll keep his spot warm, but in the meantime we're going to continue to win with Caleb [Hanie]," Smith said. "We're not the first team to lose their starting quarterback. You move on. We have a good football team. Our football team is not based on just one player. We have a lot of good football players and they're going to all step up and we'll be fine."
Smith said Hanie's performance in last year's NFC Championship game, in which he nearly led the team to comeback win over the Green Bay Packers, gives him faith the former undrafted free agent can get the job done going forward.
"There was a lot of pressure on him in that game and the team needed him to step up. He came in and ran the offense and got us within a touchdown of possibly taking us to the Super Bowl," he said. "I have faith in Caleb Hanie and our football team will say the same thing."
Hanie has spent the past three-and-a-half years in Chicago and has two years experience in coordinator Mike Martz's complicated system. That should give him confidence as the starter, Smith said.
"He would say he's more comfortable in the system. Having the time to observe a great player in Jay Cutler. He and Jay have a great relationship. Just being in those quarterback rooms, he prepares each week, like any backup player should, he prepares, ready to go on a moment's notice. And that's where he is.
"I would say Caleb is pretty excited about the opportunity. When you're a backup, you want to get an opportunity to prove what you can do. He realizes what's at stake too. We have a good football team and he's going to do his job to keep it moving."
Smith said he expects Cutler to serve as a mentor to Hanie while he's recovering from the surgery.
"He'll be coach Cutler for a while. Whenever there is an injured player, a veteran, I expect him to move into that coaching, helping, mentor role to do whatever you can to help the next guy up. And that's what Jay will do."
Smith said the team will be searching this week for a veteran signal caller to backup Hanie, as the team obviously isn't comfortable with rookie Nathan Enderle as the only other quarterback on the roster.
"There's not that many [quarterbacks] floating around but there are some. And it's hard but these are the cards we've been dealt. We'll be able to get someone in but first it's about Caleb. We feel good about the guy we're lining up under center right away leading our team. We like to have three quarterbacks on the roster."
Smith was upbeat about the prospect of Cutler returning before season's end.
"My glass is always half full. Jay is coming back and in the meantime we have business to take care of," he said. "Don't feel sorry for us or anything like that. We have a lot of things in place."
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.