Michael John Schon: From a fan's perspective, this game has got to be huge for both clubs fresh off the Jay Cutler-Kyle Orton exchange, and although it's only preseason, many people in Denver are looking at this to try and justify that the trade was not completely one-sided. How much time can we expect to see from Cutler and the first team, and what's been the most notable thing he has brought to the table since heading to the Windy City?
John Crist: After a disappointing preseason debut at Buffalo, Cutler was terrific this past Saturday at Soldier Field and put 17 points on the board during his three drives under center. Expect Cutler to play quite a but Sunday in Denver, most likely into the second half so the offensive coaching staff can make adjustments after intermission and see how Cutler responds. No. 6 is doing his best to downplay the significance of facing the Broncos for the first time since it's just an exhibition, but you know as well as anyone how competitive he is and how badly he'd like to stick it to Josh McDaniels and Co. after the soap opera we witnessed a few months ago.
Aside from the tools Cutler brings to the table, which are obvious for a franchise that's been searching half a century for a franchise QB, his supreme confidence brings a swagger to the passing game that's been missing in the Lovie Smith era.
MJS: We heard some rumors about a rift between Cutler and Brian Urlacher shortly after the trade was made, and other reports that several Bears teammates were upset to see Orton go. Any truth to the rumors, and what's the general consensus in the locker room as to Cutler's ability to lead this team?
JC: With regard to Orton's departure, even though he was well liked in the locker room and many Bears were sad to see him go, there isn't one player on the roster that would do it any differently because they all realize just how special Cutler can be. As far as the supposed rift between Cutler and Urlacher, the one where current Vikings and former Bears receiver Bobby Wade claimed Urlacher called Cutler something you might call a young feline, I believe there is a shred to truth to the story – but it was still totally blown out of proportion like the media tends to do. Both players addressed the non-issue when they arrived at training camp, as did Smith, and we haven't really heard much about it since.
The Monsters of the Midway have a tradition of flip-flopping jerseys on the final day of training camp just to loosen up the atmosphere a bit, and although it was probably a calculated move, Cutler was wearing No. 54 and Urlacher was wearing No. 6 down in Bourbonnais.
MJS: In last week's win over the Giants, Chicago's first unit seemed to have a pretty equal balance with 11 runs and 13 passes. Is there any indication that Lovie Smith may open up the playbook a little more and let Cutler try to exploit the Broncos secondary, or do you think he'll play it pretty close to the vest and stick to your basic preseason game plan?
JC: First of all, Smith does next to nothing on the offensive side of the ball for this club and defers to offensive coordinator Ron Turner more often than he doesn't. The company line at Halas Hall is that the Bears "get off the bus running the football," which sounds like a good idea with Matt Forte in the backfield but isn't entirely true because Turner likes to take lots of shots downfield. I asked Turner on Wednesday if he'll have to resist the urge to give his new toy as many opportunities as possible to hit some big plays and show the Mile High faithful just what they're missing, but he simply said that that's always the case since Cutler is capable of making a big play on every snap.
Be on the lookout for those Broncos-like bootlegs, sprintouts and play-action passes, although don't expect the entire playbook to be put on display.
MJS: What's been the most dramatic improvement in Bears camp this year and, on the flip side, what are your biggest concerns headed into this weekend's matchup with Denver? Are there any concerns that the offensive line will be able to protect Cutler, and has anyone stood out as his "go-to guy" at this stage of the preseason?
JC: In two preseason games, the D-line has been very active and getting much more consistent pressure on the passer than we saw a year ago. While that should help out a defensive backfield that was 30th in the league stopping the pass in 2008, the secondary is still a mess because corner Charles Tillman is on the physically unable to perform list after back surgery, corner Zack Bowman just returned to practice because of a bum hamstring, safety and nickel back Danieal Manning continues to battle his own hammy, corner Nathan Vasher can't seem to cover anybody anymore and safety Mike Brown – the heart of this defense for a decade – is now in Kansas City. On the positive side of the ledger, Pisa Tinoisamoa has fit in well next to Urlacher and Lance Briggs to give Chicago perhaps the best group of 4-3 linebackers in the NFL.
Cutler's protection has been good with future Hall of Famer Orlando Pace moving in at left tackle and 2008 first-round draft pick Chris Williams flipping over to the right side, and look for tight end Greg Olsen to lead this team in receptions since he's already developed a great relationship with his new signal caller.
MJS: For all the fans in Denver who may be unfamiliar with Orton, give us your best inside info of his abilities, strengths and weaknesses, leadership qualities, and what would be the best way to utilize a receiving corps of Eddie Royal, Brandon Stokley and Brandon Marshall? Do you really think he's got what it takes to turn the Broncos back into a winning franchise?
JC: While I do believe Orton is a solid quarterback and you can win with him at the controls, his skill set is somewhat limited and, therefore, prohibits him from ever developing into a Pro Bowler. On the plus side, he's got an even-keel personality that helps him remain calm in stressful situations, his teammates tend to like him even though he has a liberal outlook on life for a professional athlete and he could care less about the stat sheet after the final whistle – he's concerned only with wins and losses. However, he's not very mobile in the pocket, isn't as accurate as you'd like him to be and has never been remotely effective throwing the deep ball.
If the Broncos want to get the most out of Royal, Stokley and Marshall this season, keep Orton well protected within the framework of the tackle box while concentrating on shorter and quicker throws.
To read Part II of this Behind Enemy Lines series, where Michael answers five questions from John, CLICK HERE.
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Behind Enemy Lines: Part I
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