NFC North tour: Cutler's celebrity

In our weekly tour of the NFC North, Jay Cutler Mania is sweeping Chicago; the Vikings want Adrian Peterson to take it easy; the Lions continue their roster renovation.

Before throwing a pass for the Bears, Jay Cutler has achieved rock-star status among the thousands of faithful who attended the team's fan convention last week at Soldier Field.

Cutler's No. 6 jersey rivals Brian Urlacher's No. 54 and Devin Hester's No. 23 in popularity. The ovation he received upon his introduction drowned out the receptions for any other Bear.

Just imagine the celebrity Cutler will enjoy if he lives up to the hype. That might be impossible, although his acquisition has energized the offseason like none in recent memory.

"The energy level has been unbelievable," Bears president and CEO Ted Phillips said, "and not just with the fans, but internally, with the staff, the coaches and the players. It's just a new energy level. I hear it from the fans now. Even as the Bulls were going through their great playoff run, the Blackhawks still are, but fans still want to talk about the Bears and what this season holds for them."

The fanatics attending the Bears' annual love fest are nearly always pumped up over the prospects for the coming season, but ever since Bears general manager Jerry Angelo swung the trade for the Pro Bowl quarterback, optimism has kicked into overdrive.

"Without question," Angelo said. "Everybody has hope about the upcoming year — not that we didn't have hope regardless of if Jay were here or not. But just bringing in a player of his caliber at his position speaks for itself."

Cutler prefers to characterize his role as just a part of the Bears' process of getting back to the playoffs, but he also appears completely at ease amid the adulation.

"We've created a little bit of buzz throughout the city, and it's going to be fun. Expectations are pretty high right now. I'm looking forward to it and I appreciate it," Cutler said to thunderous applause before a question-and-answer session with the fans that also included running back Matt Forte, tight end Greg Olsen and seven-time Pro Bowl left tackle Orlando Pace, a free-agent acquisition who will be guarding Cutler's blind side.

The crowd for that feature dwarfed the turnout for the session with Angelo, Phillips and coach Lovie Smith, which is usually the most popular attraction at the annual convention.

Even during that session, at least half of the fans' questions were prefaced by praise for the trade that brought Cutler from Denver.

"The expectations are very high, and rightfully so," Smith said. "Any quarterback in the NFL, especially a quarterback here in Chicago, there are big shoes to fill, and Jay came here knowing all of that. But you can't worry about all that. He just has to do what he's done all his life, play great football at the quarterback position, and we expect him to do that."

Thousands of Bears fans expect all that and more — much more. But Angelo cautions against overly optimistic expectations — at least in the beginning.

"Can he ever live up to these expectations?" Angelo said. "That's hard to do. Very few people are going to come in and meet the expectations that they have for him this year. He still has to transition into a new offense, and he's learning a new terminology, coupled with learning new players around him. I know he's going to do very, very well for us. To come in and see a great player right off the bat, that would be unrealistic."

Great expectations are nothing new for Cutler, who was a first-round draft choice in Denver, where the shadow of Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway still loomed large.

"When I was at Denver, there was a lot of pressure on us to score points, and we had to do it in a hurry," Cutler said. "But these guys, with a great defense and the running game, it's going to be fun. I just have to manage the ball game and let the defense do the work and let Matt (Forte) get his carries in, and we're going to win some ball games."

"Some," won't be nearly enough to satisfy this year's expectations.

Vikings: More rest for Peterson

Vikings coach Brad Childress said at the NFL Scouting Combine in February that he wanted to see Pro Bowl running back Adrian Peterson do less off-the-field work this offseason and focus more on improving his game and getting rest.

Peterson made it clear recently that he took that advice to heart.

"Through the past two or three years, I've had the experience of doing too much and not really being able to dedicate the time I would like to working out and preparing myself," Peterson said. "I've really cut back a lot this year. I have more time to study film and really just focus on the most important things that make those things possible off the field. Get my body prepared."

Childress' point when he made his original comments was not that Peterson's game had suffered greatly on the field. Peterson led the NFL in rushing in only his second NFL season with 1,760 yards and also had 10 touchdowns.

But Childress' concern was that Peterson was getting enough rest and could potentially wear down. It also is no secret that Peterson must become a more complete player.

He has been taken off the field in many passing situations during his first two seasons because of questions about his ability in pass protection and certainly Peterson could become a better receiver.

If Peterson does take a stride forward that could be very bad news for the rest of the NFL. One area that doesn't concern Peterson is fumbles.

He led the NFL with nine last year and lost four of them.

"When I watched the film, it really wasn't the guys, the blows they were hitting (me with)," he said. "It was me being careless with the ball, trying to go the extra yard. Get to the end zone, because that's my mindset. There's so many things I can work on. Fumbling the ball, that's not my main concern at all. I do a good job holding onto the ball. I guess you could argue from last year, but that's definitely not my main concern."

Lions: Roster makeover continues

Asked about his roster after the draft, Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said: "It's still a work in progress. There's no finish line in May. We have a lot of work to do in terms of getting the right players and the best players for the opener."

And Mayhew continues to be active. The Lions' latest signing is Ephraim Salaam, an 11-year NFL veteran with 129 career starts at offensive tackle.

"It goes into everything we've talked about, creating competition on the team," coach Jim Schwartz said. "There's no spot set in stone. We want to create competition as much as we can, bring as many people into the equation as we can, make people earn their jobs. We don't want to give anything away for free."

Jeff Backus has started every game at left tackle since the Lions drafted him in the first round in 2001. Gosder Cherilus eventually won the starting job at right tackle after the Lions drafted him in the first round last year.

The Lions' other offensive tackles include George Foster, a veteran who has lost the starting right tackle job each of the last two years, and Lydon Murtha, a seventh-round pick this year.

After starting 30 games at left tackle for Houston from 2006-07, Salaam was a backup last year behind Duane Brown, an 2008 first-round pick. He played right tackle early in his career. He went through only individual drills after signing.

"Obviously he's not going to be ready to get out there right away on the first day, even though he's a veteran player," Schwartz said. "Usually for those guys, it's not teaching them, it's just learning a new language. So generally they can get up to speed pretty quickly."


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Bill also is giving Facebook and Twitter a try. Find him on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook.


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