Cutler excited about potential of offense

Bears quarterback Jay Cutler says he's looking forward to having more control of the offense this season. We also discuss Johnny Knox' recovery from spinal surgery, Devin Hester and more.

Mike Tice is the Chicago Bears' new offensive coordinator, but this year, more than ever, it will be Jay Cutler's offense on the field.

Management has provided its franchise quarterback with Brandon Marshall, the receiver who was Cutler's go-to guy in Denver when he threw for a combined 8,023 yards in 2007 and '08.

"He's a guy that I've missed," Cutler said. "It's good having him back. He's a little bit different guy than he was in Denver -- in a good way."

Cutler's new quarterbacks coach, Jeremy Bates, worked closely with him and Marshall those two big seasons in Denver. Aside from Kristin Cavallari, the Bears couldn't have hired anyone who works better with Cutler.

"Jeremy has a really good feel of what I like to do and what I don't like to do," Cutler said after Wednesday's OTA practice. "There were plays out here that I told him, 'I don't like them. Let's think about getting rid of them.' And he's fine with that, and coach Tice is fine with that.

"It's a give and take, and that's a breath of fresh air around here, being able to give ideas and everyone giving ideas and let's pick the best ones that work for everybody."

That wasn't the case last season under offensive coordinator Mike Martz, when the offense operated as more of a dictatorship then a democracy.

Cutler is looking forward to utilizing the most talented collection of skill-position players the Bears have possessed in more than 20 years. And his passing-game weapons aren't just better; they're bigger. The addition of two big wide receivers -- the 6-4, 230-pound Marshall and 6-3, 216-pound rookie Alshon Jeffery -- gives Cutler much bigger targets than he's had in three previous seasons with the Bears.

"It changes things, (like) where you can throw the ball, (and) when you can throw the ball," Cutler said. "Those guys are getting better and better each day."

Marshall caught 206 passes in the two full seasons he played with Cutler as a Bronco. He was asked to explain their past success.

"We're two guys who are really passionate about the game," he said. "But I think the most important thing is that we see the field the same. A lot of times you have to wing it out there, and we seem to be on the same page when we do that. That's what the great ones do -- see the field the same way."

Cutler believes Marshall's presence will help the entire receiving corps, and not just with his own catches, yards and touchdowns.

"Game-day-wise, he's going to attract a lot of attention," Cutler said. "He's going to attract a lot of coverages. Guys on defense are going to have to decide with Matt (Forte) and Brandon and all the other weapons, what they're going to give us.

"Are they going to let us run the ball or are they going to let us pass the ball? He helps those guys. And he's been through a lot of adversity. He's had some great seasons. So he's able to pass on to these young guys some of the good and bad things he's done."

There are plenty of both, bad and good. Marshall's off-the-field incidents involving alcohol and violence against women have been well documented, and he's been up front about striving to improve. But he also sees room for improvement on the field, even though he's put up monster numbers for the past five seasons.

"In 2008 we finished No. 2 in offense and everyone says we were really successful, and even we walk around sometimes saying it," Marshall said. "But when I look at film now, I think we were terrible. We were just young and immature out there on the field, not understanding the big picture of the offense and the game itself. To see where we're at now, where our football mind is at now, it's going to be really dangerous."

Cutler threw for a career-high 4,526 yards in that 2008 season and Marshall caught a career-best 104 passes for 1,265 yards, a year after catching 102 passes for a career-high 1,325 yards.

"We made plays, but 4,000 yards, that's on paper," Marshall said. "Compared to everyone else around the league, that's good, but when you look back on it, we left so much on the field."

--Back surgery, 2 1/2 months in a cast and baby steps at the start of a long rehabilitation have left wide receiver Johnny Knox looking like a sliver of his former self, but he's doing his best to stay positive.

Last offseason the 6-0 Knox bulked up to a ripped 185 pounds. But he lost at least 30 pounds in the months after last December's injury, and he's gained back only about 10 pounds.

He doesn't appear to be anywhere close to playing football, and he might not be back this season at all.

"It could happen," he admits, "but I'm staying optimistic. My main focus is in that weight room. I'm not in a rush. This is my spine, the core of my body that I'm dealing with, so I'm taking my time on this."

Knox has purposely not watched replays of the collision that bent him backwards and could have left him paralyzed were he not in elite physical condition. Knox is no longer in pain, but he can't do much more than jog or lift light weights.

"Since Day One my mindset has been real positive, no letdowns, no setbacks," he said. "I'm surrounded by a great group of people, a great organization -- friends, family, they're keeping me positive, and I'm staying positive moving forward.

"I want to get back out there at the beginning of the season, but who knows? We'll see how it turns out."

--As usual, Devin Hester makes an impression almost any time he's on the practice field.

"Devin Hester is probably having the best camp of all the receivers," quarterback Jay Cutler said Wednesday after just the second of 10 scheduled OTA practices. "We've got a lot of weapons. I think management is going to have a tough job figuring out what four, five or six guys we want to keep (at wide receiver)."

Contrary to others, Cutler doesn't believe Hester will be more effective with less playing time.

"I don't think less plays is the answer for him," Cutler said. "I think we're just going to put Devin in position to be successful every time he's out there. He's getting more and more comfortable with me, and I think this offense suits his abilities a lot better."

--Cutler has voiced his concerns about an offensive line that has allowed 105 sacks in the past two seasons, the most in the NFL. Nothing that transpires during the three weeks of OTAs or the minicamp that follows will allay those concerns.

"Right now it's hard to tell," Cutler said. "We don't have any contact out here. We can't really get a good look at those guys, and I don't think it would be fair to any of those guys competing to say where they're at until we get into camp and we get the pads on and see what we've got."

--Chris Williams took the first snap with the first team at left tackle on Wednesday, but last year's starter, J'Marcus Webb, also worked with the ones. Webb started all 16 games last season with mediocre results but said he still considers himself the starter.

Williams, who was drafted in the first round (14th overall) in 2008 as the left tackle of the future, missed the first half of his rookie season after suffering a back injury early in training camp and played sparingly the second half of the season but did not start any games.

He started all 16 games in '09, 11 at right tackle and five at left tackle. After two starts at left tackle in '10, he started 11 games at left guard, where he opened the season last year. After nine starts, he suffered a dislocated left wrist.

Now Williams is back where he began and eventually failed.

But the competition between the two may not be decided until late in training camp.

"I feel good about it," said Webb, a seventh-round pick who started 12 games at right tackle in 2010 as a rookie. "I'm working hard on my footwork and my hands (placement), and I definitely feel that a competitive side of it will come in training camp, and I'm happy to be back out here."


--WR Johnny Knox (back surgery) is unlikely to be back by the start of the regular season.

--LB Brian Urlacher (sprained knee) is not participating in OTA practices and might not be cleared until the start of training camp, but he's confident he will be 100 percent well before then.

--CB Kelvin Hayden (toe) is not participating in OTA practices but could be back on the field by minicamp in mid-June.

--OT Gabe Carimi (dislocated kneecap) is not participating in OTA practices, but he should be healthy for the start of training camp and could be on the field for the mid-June minicamp.

--LS Patrick Mannelly (torn ACL) is not expected back until training camp.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "If off-the-field isn't right, then nine times out of 10, it's going to be real hard to perform on the field." -- WR Brandon Marshall.

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