There was plenty of change to the Chicago Bears offense this offseason, as the team lost longtime running back Matt Forte, tight end Martellus Bennett and offensive coordinator Adam Gase. Jay Cutler will be on his sixth offensive coordinator since joining the Bears in 2009.
But even with a new play caller in Dowell Loggains, the concern of ball security with Cutler remains the same.
“It’s something that [Loggains] harped on,” Cutler said. “Whenever we weren’t doing team stuff, we were just doing drills and making sure that the ball was tight to the body when you were going through your reads, so there wasn’t a lot of thinking out there.
After a 2014 campaign in which Cutler led the league in total turnovers (24), Gase put Cutler in better positions to succeed last season. This resulted in a substantial reduction in interceptions - 11, Cutler's fewest in any season in which he played 15 or more games - and he didn’t have a multi-interception game until the Week 17 loss to the Detroit Lions - two of which were the result of his arm being hit as he threw.
The offensive game plan allowed Cutler to attempt high-percentage throws rather than putting the ball in harms way deep down the field. Under Loggains, the offense will be very similar and it should benefit Cutler again.
The two have already built a strong relationship together, as Loggains served as quarterbacks coach in 2015.
“There’s definitely some honesty there,” Cutler said. “He’s not afraid to tell me when I’m completely wrong and rightfully so. I like to tell him whenever I think we’re not doing things right or we need to change things. I think at the core of that we kind of cut through some stuff and we get things done a little bit quicker.”
In the first year under the new regime, the Bears offense suffered multiple injuries and at times, Cutler was throwing at receivers that were fourth or fifth on the depth chart. First-round receiver Kevin White missed the entire 2015 season with a shin injury but will enter training camp in a few weeks healthy. In their short time together, Cutler and White have already developed a bond that could lead to big things on the field.
“I think the sky is the limit, Cutler said. “He’s an unbelievable kid. You know that every day he comes to work he’s going to give you everything he has.”
The addition of White should help an offense that finished 23rd in the NFL last season with 228 passing yards per game. It gives Cutler another big, physical target that can make plays down the field.
“Physically he can do anything he wants,” said Cutler. “He’s fast, he’s strong, he’s got good hips. He can get out of breaks. It’s just a matter of him mentally getting there so that he can use all of his ability instead of thinking so much.”
White won’t be the only big, physical receiver at Cutler's disposal this season, as Alshon Jeffery returned to the team for veteran minicamp this week.
Jeffery skipped voluntary workouts in May, deciding instead to train in Florida away from the team. The receiver missed seven games in 2015 but when healthy, he proved he can be the club's dominant No.1 receiver and finished the year 8th in the NFL in receiving yards per game (89.7).
“I mean last year was such a hard year,” Cutler said. “It’s hard to gauge him as a player off that because he was in and out and dealing with injuries, and each and every game you weren’t for sure if he was 100 percent, if he could go.”
With what seemed like a revolving door at receiver last season, Cutler knows a healthy Jeffery could mean a lot for this team.
“I think that’s kind of his focus,” Cutler said. “Making sure physically he can go for 16 games. Because if we got him 100 percent for 16 games he’s going to do some damage.”
Even with changing pieces on the offensive line, a new coordinator and a healthy receiving core the Bears offense still has to improve. The unit finished 2015 ranked 21st in total offense, 11th in rushing and 23rd in passing, which just won't cut it in the NFC North, a division that features three potent offensive attacks. Even with a similar system there are still improvements to be made before the team opens Week 1 in Houston.
“We’ve got to be better than last year, that’s for sure,” Cutler said. “We didn’t turn this offense over. We have the same terminology, same stuff. We’ve got to improve in the direction we want to go.”