Shanahan, Cutler Talk About The Switch

After Denver's 19-10 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Thanksgiving Night, Denver coach Mike Shanahan made the move that had been discussed for weeks – he announced that rookie quarterback Jay Cutler, the eleventh player taken in the 2006 draft, would be his new starter.

Plummer, who has been the main man in Denver since 2003, has led a lethargic offense this season that ranked 20th in DVOA against the pass as of November 21st. (DVOA, short for Defense-adjusted Value Over Average, is explained here). His quarterback rating of 70.5 is the lowest he’s posted since his last season with the Arizona Cardinals in 2002, and he’s thrown more interceptions than touchdowns for the first season since he became a Bronco.

Denver currently stands at 7-4, but it’s a very different 7-4 than the Seahawks, their opponent on Sunday night, currently sport. The Broncos are two games behind the Chargers in the AFC West, and the loss to the Chiefs, who are also 7-4, put them in third place in their division. Seattle has a clear two-game lead in the NFC West, a division where any other team would have to pull off a few miracles to end the season at .500.

In Shanahan's mind, a change had to be made. On Monday, Shanahan spoke with the media and talked about the reasoning behind the switch, and what it means for the team. It is the first time in recent memory that a team contending for a playoff spot made a change at this position from veteran to rookie without injury being a factor, so Shanahan had quite a bit of explaining to do. Cutler, the highly-rated rookie from Vanderbilt, talked about what the change means to him. Praised as the top quarterback in the draft by many experts, Cutler must now show, as many before him have not, that he can grasp the NFL game on short notice.

MIKE SHANAHAN

“We did make a change at the quarterback position. Jay Cutler will be our starting quarterback Sunday night. I’ll bet you there are some questions.”

When did you come to this decision?

“Well obviously, with the extra couple days it does make it much easier, but that wasn’t the deciding factor.”

What was the deciding factor for moving Cutler into the starting role?

“Just like we have talked all along, it is a process. You go through your summer camp, you go through your OTA days, you get an evaluation every practice and every game and then you make a decision with what you think is in the best interest of the organization with what you think is the best choice and you make that choice.”

How much better will QB Cutler will make the Broncos, in your estimation?
“Well we will let the process take care of itself. Jay has the opportunity to obviously be the guy. We understand that there is always a process involved. I like the way he has practiced, I like the way he handles himself and I think he gives us the best chance to win.”

How much of this decision is based on the future of the team, and how much is based on the present?

“I think you know me well enough that I usually work in the present I don’t work in the future. I think that he gives us our best chance to win now, and obviously you have got to go out there and get it done and with Jake (Plummer), I love the way he has handled it. He is a competitor, he is a winner, he has done a lot of great things for this organization and he has won a lot of football games and I really believe that this is for the best interest of our football team.”

How much has the upcoming schedule factored in the quarterback decision?
“I think it is a combination of all of those things. Like I said before it is a process, it just doesn’t happen overnight. It happens on the way that Jay (Cutler) is handling himself through OTA days, the way he is handling himself through summer camp. You evaluate the way people practice on a day-to-day basis, week in and week out, and then you have to make some tough decisions and this is a very tough decision considering all the games, obviously, that Jake (Plummer) has won for us.”

How long has the quarterback decision been brewing?
“Well like I said, you think about not only every position on your football team but it is an evaluation process. You don’t just think of it as week six, week seven but through your summer camp, through your first week you have an evaluation process not just of the quarterback position but of every position. Obviously this gets the most notoriety.”

How do you plan to counter Cutler’s youth and inexperience?
“Obviously for us to get where we want to we have got to play better as an offense. It is not just the quarterback position that is involved we have got to get better at many positions. Right now we are average on offense and it is not due just to the quarterback it is due to a lot of different segments and we have to get better at those segments.”

Will you have to scale down the offense?
“For us to make that decision that we have made, we feel very comfortable that he is got complete knowledge of the offense.”

Did you consider the impact it could possibly have on the team when Cutler was drafted?
“I think a lot of it has to do with us not being as successful running the football this year compared to previous years. It put a little more pressure on the quarterback I think that has a lot to do with it. I think that there is always pressure involved at every position especially when your back-up is a first round draft choice.”

What was Jake Plummer’s reaction to the loss of his starting role?
“Class. I don’t think obviously that he likes the move. Any competitor would not like the move, but he is a winner and he is going to do everything that the can to help this football team. He knows that he is one play away from being the starter and he is going to do everything he can to help us win. It surely doesn’t surprise me on how he is handling it.”

Does Plummer has the mentality to be a long-term backup quarterback for the Broncos?
“Well I think it all depends on him. Would I like him here long term? As long as he would like to be here. He is a winner and he has done a lot of good things for us and I would love him in that role if he wants to be in that role. I think time will tell.”

Do you think the speculation about the quarterback position affected the team in its last game at Kansas City?

“No I don’t think it has affected us at all. I think that obviously it always affects the quarterback. It is tough when you have a first round draft choice behind you, I think the pressure is always there. I think that is human nature but has it affected our football team-I don’t think so.”

Did you have a starting timeline in mind when Cutler was drafted?
“I was hoping it was going to be at the end of the season. Give him a season to learn and kind of learn the system and get comfortable with it.”

What improvement have you seen in practice from him?
“Now, with OTA days, what you do in your summer program he has probably had more reps with our offense than most veteran quarterbacks of 10 years- for example Gary Kubiak and John Elway. We didn’t have all of those OTA days, we didn’t have those throwing camps and so in the past it has been very hard for a quarterback to get many reps if he wasn’t the starter but he has a good feel for the offense and a good feel for the system and that is one of the reasons we made the change.”

Would you have made the change if the Broncos had won against Kansas City?
“I don’t like to talk about ifs and buts. I can’t answer that.”

Have Tony Romo’s and Philip Rivers’ performances so far this season give him a positive outlook on Cutler’s potential for this season?
“No. 1, Tony Romo has been in the league for four years. He is not a first-year guy, and Rivers has been in the league for a couple years and he is not a first-year guy, so it is quite different. There is a lot of pressure on a first-year quarterback there is no question about it, but I think this kid can handle it.”

What had Cutler had shown you to convince you he could start?
“Consistency. We’ve talked about this all along. It’s a continual evaluation process at every position. It just doesn’t happen one week to the next. It happens throughout the offseason program, throughout summer camps, throughout games, game situations, throughout practice situations. And then you go with your gut, what you feel is in the best interest of your football team.”

How does Cutler’s situation compares to John Elway’s when he took over as starting quarterback with Denver in 1983?
“When you take a look at a situation like that, take a look at a quarterback (in Elway) that, at least in my opinion, didn’t have a really great supporting cast. All the pressure was on the quarterback. I think it’s almost impossible for a guy to come in his first year without a supporting cast and be successful. You have to have an excellent defense. You have to be able to run the football. You can’t put all the pressure on that quarterback. There are a lot of quarterbacks in this league that have been around for a lot of years that you can’t put that pressure on, and they’re still pretty good quarterbacks. Looking back at John’s situation, for him to do the things that he did, to me, was nearly impossible because he put the weight of the team on his shoulders. He didn’t have the supporting cast, but was still pretty darn successful. That’s a freak of nature. They don’t come around very often.”

How is the supporting cast is for Cutler?
“Hopefully it’ll get better in that running game. I think we’re a little healthier right now. I think Tatum (Bell) will be back. I think our backs are in a little better shape than they have been. We’ve got to take a little pressure off that quarterback, as well as all the other positions.”

What does Cutler bring that hasn’t been there?
“I’m not going to go into that. We’ll see down the road. As we’ve talked about, you do the thing that you feel gives you the best chance to win. It’s one of the reasons Jay Cutler is our quarterback.”

What did you see from him in the preseason?

“To be honest with you, I think you saw a quarterback operate in a game situation. He wasn’t awed by a preseason game. I think we all know the defenses are much different during the regular season than they are during the preseason. But this guy is a guy that handles himself quite well. There will be growing pains. There will be many mistakes that happen, but he’s going to be our guy. He’s the guy for the future. He’s the guy for the present. I think I explained why.”

Did you have any indication that the locker room was ready for the change?
“I can’t tell you exactly, but I did tell you I think that I made a big mistake when I named Brian Griese the quarterback (in 1999) instead of Bubby Brister. Bubby had won four games the year before when John wasn’t the quarterback. Even though I thought it was in the best interest of the football team, I don’t think everybody else thought it was. Is it a 100 percent? I would say definitely not. It never is, especially when a guy has played as hard as Jake has through the years. But that’s why you get paid what you get paid, to make those tough decisions, and you’ve got to do what you think is in the best interesting of the team. That was one of the reasons why we went with Jay.”

Could you compare Cutler’s arm strength to any other quarterback’s?
“One time, I compared Brian Griese’s arm strength to Joe Montana. Then coming out of this meeting I was comparing Brian Griese to Joe Montana, so to compare arm strength is not a very good question for me.”

What have you learned about Cutler that couldn’t be learned from a scouting report?

“He’s very mature. He’s very confident. He’s a worker. He’s got all the tools that you look for. That’s why he’s getting this opportunity, on how he’s practiced.”

Did the schedule play a factor regarding when you would begin starting him?

“I don’t think about that. Prime time – what’s the difference between 6:00 or 2:00? A game’s a game. They’re all important to us, and you’ve got to go out there and perform. He’ll handle it well.”

Was this a tough decision for you?
“Like I said, Jake has done a lot of great things for our organization. He’s played extremely hard. Jake gives you everything he’s got, so yeah, it is tough. You’ve got relationships with a guy that’s busted his rear end for you. To call him in and say, ‘Hey, I’m going in another direction,’ it’s tough. That’s the tough part about this business.”

Will Cutler will show a different side as the starter?

“I’m not sure it will be much different than it has been. Jay’s been a class act as well. He’s going to say the right thing at the right time. He’s a very smart individual and understands what it takes to be a team. But I’m sure when you do ask him questions that he’s going to give you a very honest answer. I think he’ll be very forthright.”


JAY CUTLER

How did you feel when you found out you were the new starter?

“Excited, a little nervous. But I guess you guys all knew about it before I did, so I’ve have an idea for the last couple days. So I’ve kind of been preparing.”

Are you ready?
“I hope so. I think so. Good practice today. We were sharp. I had to get my timing back a little bit, but we’ve got a long week.”

Did practice feel different?

“Definitely. It’s a whole new responsibility. The last eight, 10, 12 weeks, I’ve just been kind of coming out here and watching and learning. Now I’m on the other side, so it’s going to be fun.”

Are you surprised to be starting so soon?
“You never know what’s going to happen. I knew there was a possibility I might get to play this year. I prepared like I might get to play, so I’m happy. I’m just going to take it one day at a time.”

On facing different expectations as a team than the teams of the other first-round rookie quarterbacks this year...

“Yeah, but we’ve got a good team. We’ve got a really good defense. We’ve got a really good offensive line. We’ve got running backs. We’ve got receivers. We’ve got a lot of leadership on this team, so I just need to go out there and do my part.”

Is your situation easier than Matt Leinart’s and Vince Young’s?
“I think so. I think that Matt and Vince, they have to kind of go out there and really win games. I’m going to take chances and try to put some balls in some spots, but for the most part I’ve just got to manage the game.”

Have you talked to Jake Plummer?
“Yeah, I talked to Jake a couple times today. Jake’s a good guy. He’s been great since I got here. As soon as he got here today, we kind of talked and said it didn’t change anything between me and him. He’s going to be there for me. It’s good to have him around.”

Can you draw on your preseason success?
“This is a different animal completely. Preseason’s preseason. I don’t put a lot of stock into it. We’re playing for real now, so I’ve got to be a little more prepared.”

Does the game plan have to be altered to make up for your inexperience?
“The defenses that we’re going to see are a little more complex than in preseason, but I’ve been able to watch a lot and learn so far these first 11 games. So I feel like we can continue doing what we’ve been doing.”

On the biggest difference in preparation aside from increased practice reps...
“I want to be sharp. I want to have everything down, so it’s going to be some longer hours and studying a little bit more than I have in the past.”

On the Seahawks blitzing to try to throw him off on Sunday...

“They’re going to have a few wrinkles just to try to put me in bad situations. That’s even more reason I have to be more prepared and watch a lot more film and know the game plan backward and forwards.”

On debuting in a prime-time game...
“It’s always fun to play Sunday nights, so to make my debut on a nationally televised game like that is going to be fun.”

On whether adrenalin and excitement could be a factor...
“No, my pregame’s going to be a little bit different, and I’ll be a little bit more excited. But once I get on the field, I think it’s just going to take over and I’ll be fine.”

What did your family say when you told them the news?
“They knew before I did. They called me Friday or Saturday morning and asked me if I heard anything. I’ve had calls all weekend, so it’s been an interesting weekend. I’m glad it’s over.”

On what he’s been doing to prepare while getting few reps...
“You’ve got to mentally go through the reads and try to stay sharp that way. Physically, I haven’t gotten a lot of reps, and I was a little rusty today on some of the throws. But Jake’s going to sit back and let me get real close and get back into it this week.”

Have you spent more time with a playbook this weekend?
“I didn’t even have a playbook this weekend. We don’t get it until Wednesday, really.”

Do you feel like you're cramming for an exam?
“Yeah, a little bit. Luckily, it’s a Sunday night game, which gives us a little bit longer. Those first couple days I might be pressing a little bit and trying to get everything down, but I’ve got to be patient. It’s going to come.”

On how throwing a rookie quarterback into the offense makes things better...
“I don’t know; it might make things worse. We’ll have to find out. Hopefully I can give us a little bit of a spark. We’re going to get things turned around. We’ve got too much talent and too much character on this team not to. We had a good meeting today and kind of looked at ourselves, and then I thought we had a really sharp practice today.”

On whether he will talk to John Elway about his situation...
“If he calls me.”

On whether he’s talked to anyone about how to handle his situation...
“Not really, just kind of been going with the flow, really. We’ve got a great bunch on guys in there – John Lynch and Jake, Al Wilson and Champ (Bailey) and all those guys, they’ve been great so far.”


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