Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is recovering from a hamstring injury suffered in Week 2 but has practiced the past two days in limited fashion. Yet the Bears still aren't sure if he's going to play Sunday against the Oakland Raiders - and even if they are, they're not going to tell you.
“Everybody is different," head coach John Fox said. "That’s why I don’t like putting timelines on things. I’ve had a variety of circumstances where guys have the same injuries and some guys come back faster than others. I think it comes down to how fast they heal and what their pain tolerance is. It varies so much that it’s hard to define.”
As a result, offensvie coordinator Adam Gase has to put in extra work this week, developing two different playbooks, one each for Cutler and backup Jimmy Clausen.
"For me it’s just having a plan for whoever coach Fox tells me is going to go," Gase said today. "It’s not a thing of what play we’re really calling, it’s just kind of the style we’re going to play for that particular game. So you put your plan together and then you just be ready to move some things around as far as what you’re going to do to open up the game and how the flow of the game is going to go, how things will change during the game. Each guy has a different skill set and whatever one goes, we’ll use that guy’s best assets."
Clausen started last week gainst the Seahawks and mustered just 64 passing yards, leaving many wondering what assets Clausen brings to the table.
"It’s hard for me to judge that because last week is an unfair comparison for Jimmy when you play at Seattle, the volume of the crowd, what you’re trying to do in the huddle, you have to be careful about doing the no-huddle things," said Gase. "We were trying to occupy the clock. We had a certain way we wanted to play that game. That’s why last week is just such an unfair assessment of Jimmy as far as what we were doing for that game."
Despite his national reputation, Cutler is a pretty tough player, which sometimes works against him, as it's often hard to tell when he's actually hurt.
"It’s hard for me to tell because I don’t know if I’m a good judge as far as how he should look compared to what it shouldn’t look like," Gase said. "Even when he did get injured in the game, when he came off I didn’t really know what had happened. When I turned around and saw him limping that was when I was like ‘Oh, something happened with the leg?’ So I was trying to figure it out. He does a good job of really kind of, he’s a tough guy so you’re really not sure what’s going on with him."
While Cutler clearly gives the team a better chance of winning on Sunday, the risk of aggravatting the hamstring and creating a much larger problem must be taken into consideration.
"If you do come back on a hamstring earlier than you want to, it’s definitely going to be in the back of your mind because there’s that slight pull," Cutler said. "It’s an instinctual game out there. You’re doing things on the run without thinking. To have to worry about a hamstring and moving around is something that can weigh on you."
Gase said if Cutler does start, they'll have a plan for keeping him healthy.
“That’ll have to be one of those things where it’s discussed before the game, of what we can and can’t do. What’s the smartest thing to do," said Gase. "This is such a wait-and-see. It’s so day-to-day right now and it’ll have to be something that we discuss and what’s smart for us over the next 13 weeks.”
If Cutler sits, the Bears will again turn to Clausen, who is still working with the first team this week.
“The [reps] are getting split up right now," Clausen said. "We’re both getting reps right now, both preparing because we don’t know what’s going to happen on Sunday.”
The Bears return home this week to the friendly confines of Soldier Field to face Oakland's 30th ranked passing defense, which should give Clausen a better chance at success.
“I feel good. If I go out there Sunday and my number’s called, I’ll be ready to go," said Clausen. "Getting that start last Sunday in a hostile environment in Seattle really helps.”
The Bears will likely list Cutler as questionable on the Friday injury report, making him a game-time decision. When asked if he could play today, Cutler toed the company line.