Needless to say, the Monsters of the Midway have real reason to be optimistic at the game's most important position for the first time in quite a while.
While Rex Grossman came into the league with impressive credentials, Brian Griese once led the entire NFL in passer rating, and Kyle Orton always put together a solid winning percentage, Jay Cutler is an elite talent and can spin the pigskin as well as anyone in recent memory. And not only does he have a cannon attached to his right shoulder, but he's fiercely competitive and supremely confident – he even grew up a big Bears fan in Santa Claus, Indiana. For a franchise that has trotted out so many Will Furrers and Craig Krenzels over the years, Cutler has the Windy City anticipating the arrival of football season almost like never before.
Head coach Lovie Smith still says the Bears are a running team, but there is a reason why No. 6 jerseys are flying off the shelves all over town.
Reasons to be Optimistic
Quite simply, Cutler can make all the throws and brings an element of danger to the passing game that enemy defenses will have to respect on any given snap.
Offensive coordinator Ron Turner has always preferred an aerial assault that pushes the ball downfield on a regular basis, which proved to be a problem this past season with Orton at the controls. Orton has never been particularly accurate on deeper throws, as evidenced by the fact that he only averages 5.8 yards per attempt in 33 career games, and even a supposed deep threat like Devin Hester averaged just 13.0 yards per reception in 2008. Cutler, on the other hand, averages 7.4 yards per attempt in 37 career games, mostly because of increased accuracy and a higher completion percentage – the gap in skill-position talent from Denver to Chicago isn't as wide as some experts think.
Cutler was as good as advertised during OTAs.
Nam Y. Huh/AP Images
Even though Cutler will never be confused with a running quarterback in the Steve Young or Randall Cunningham mold, he's light on his feet in the pocket and should be able to extend plays long enough to make something happen when nothing is there initially.
Causes for Concern
There are times when a QB can step into a new situation and be an immediate MVP candidate, like Drew Brees did moving from San Diego to New Orleans before 2006, but it's going to be difficult for Cutler to live up to the hype right away.
Throughout the offseason program at Halas Hall, there were numerous times during 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills when he simply didn't know what to do with the football. Whether it was caused by good coverage in the secondary, poor routes being run by his receivers, or his own trouble going through the reads is anyone's guess, although it was apparent to even the most casual of observers that he doesn't have the offense down just yet. And if the Midway Monsters were good to go at wideout, as everyone in the organization has said repeatedly in public, then there wouldn't be all these rumors in the news linking them to Plaxico Burress and Brandon Marshall.
Many pundits are giving Cutler a pass on his 17-20 career record as a starter mostly because the Broncos were dismal defensively, but some of those same pundits forget Chicago finished 28th and 21st, respectively, in total defense the last two years.
Yes, Cutler is twice the quarterback Grossman, Griese, or Orton will ever be. Yes, he's done a commendable job stepping into a leadership role without stepping on any of the veterans' toes. Yes, Bears backers have every right to sleep with visions of 300-yard passing games dancing in their heads.
However, just expecting Cutler to throw for 4,500 yards and 30 TDs while directing the team to a 13-3 mark simply because he is who he is would be irresponsible – although it very well could happen.
John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.