What’s it like in the locker room of a team disintegrating in front of our eyes? Both empty and quiet. And unlike weeks earlier in the season when things were going downhill yet there was still some hope of a playoff berth, today there was a sense of disarray.
It’s been a rough week for the Chicago Bears with head coach Marc Trestman enduring criticism from fans and the media over the team’s disappointing season; the dustup over offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer’s derisive remarks about Jay Cutler, his subsequent detail of the conversation, followed by an admission and apology; then yesterday’s surprise news of the benching of the club’s highly compensated veteran quarterback.
In his weekly press conference this afternoon, Cutler admitted to being both surprised and shocked by his sudden demotion. The players who were in the locker room today echoed that sentiment.
Jermon Bushrod sat on a bench alone.
“I don’t have much to say about that,” Bushrod said. “I just work and play football. I am concentrating on the game coming up, not personnel decisions.”
Offensive lineman Ryan Groy offered a rookie’s perspective on the matter.
“I was definitely surprised, and I guess I’d say I was shocked about this entire episode,” said Groy. “I’m new to the NFL but I would have thought that something like this would have been told to us in-house first, maybe in a position meeting or a team meeting. Perhaps that was the original intention but the news leaked out prematurely.”
How did Groy find out? Through his Twitter account.
“I was kind of going through messages and suddenly I saw the news about Jay,” Groy said. “I couldn’t believe it and called some other guys on the team. Some knew already but many didn’t. To say we were surprised would have been an understatement.”
Martellus Bennett said he found out the news through his position coach, Andy Bischoff.
“He contacted me right away via text,” Bennett said. “How did I take it? Well, I was definitely surprised at first but then I remember many unexpected things that have happened during my long NFL career. I reminded myself that this is a business. It’s not personal. And honestly, it was never my call. Those decisions are way above my pay grade. I am responsible only for my job. I need to concentrate on what I am paid to do which is to play well on Sundays. None of the ins and outs of management decisions impact me directly, or at least not to this point.”
When asked how he felt about Cutler’s current situation, Bennett deflected, only replying that he is “not an emotional person and have no feelings about it.”
“It is what it is,” Bennett added. “In any business you are going to make changes that you hope will make your business more successful. It wasn’t personal to me at all.”
Bennett said he isn’t sure how he’ll mesh with current starting quarterback Jimmy Clausen.
“I have no idea. I’ve played with Jay so that’s known. Maybe this will spark the offense. That probably was the theory anyway,” he said. “We’re all behind Jimmy. He’s been improving since the day he got here and we’re excited that he got his chance. He can make plays. We still have guys around here who make plays. All we need is for everybody to show up on Sunday.”
Despite obvious differences in skill sets between Cutler and Clausen, Bennett said the playbook doesn’t appear any different.
“Since the game plan is only in Day 1, everything looks the same so far. I haven’t seen big changes."
Safety Ryan Mundy wasn’t quite as philosophical when asked about the Cutler situation.
“I was in the middle of doing my radio show, having no idea what was going on when they dropped that bomb on me,” Mundy said. “I was told it had been tweeted so it must be true.
“It’s unfortunate that stuff like that gets leaked. It happens all the time. I’m sure coach Trestman was going to tell us this morning.”
Mundy insisted the locker room is not divided in terms of which quarterback should be playing.
“We’re all on board with our coaching staff and the decisions that they make.”
Mundy also expressed confidence in Clausen’s readiness to start.
“He’s been giving our defense great books all year,” Mundy said. “We’re expecting to go out there Sunday, compete hard and deliver a win. We’ll rally round Jimmy while keeping Jay encouraged because you never know what could happen during the course of the game. The important thing is to stick together.”
Kyle Long admitted to being surprised but relatively comfortable with the current situation.
“It’s the NFL and unexpected things happen,” Long said. “The most important thing right now is to work towards a common goal and get a win on Sunday against the Lions. We have a lot of confidence in Jimmy. We’ve all seen him go against our number one defense and do well. He’ll do his progressions well and handle our offense with success.”
Long also found out about the quarterback change on Twitter, a fact he called “not ideal.”
“You want to hear that kind of thing in person,” said Long. “But we are dealing with how it unfolded. I sympathize with him. Jay’s a great guy and a great teammate, somebody we’ve all leaned on during this season. He’s a tough guy mentally and I really feel he’ll be as supportive of everybody as he can be. He’ll help us get up for this challenge.”
Beth Gorr has been covering the Bears for the last 17 years and is the author of Bear Memories: The Chicago-Green Bay Rivalry. She is currently working on a second book about early Bears history.