Will Cutler mystery finally be solved?
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This week marks the beginning of Year 5 of the great Jay Cutler experiment in Chicago.
The Bears finally should know by January whether their quarterback is the greatest thing since power steering or as big a disappointment as the recent Lone Ranger movie.
"I've enjoyed the process with Jay," Bears new head coach Marc Trestman said of off-season workouts as players reported for training camp Wednesday.
One question during the most recent Super Bowl was whether Cutler could become what Joe Flacco is. Kind of odd considering Cutler is older and more experienced than Flacco.
But that's what you get when one quarterback established himself as a champion in less time than it has taken the other to establish himself as, well, whatever it is that he is.
Oh, wait, this is what Jay Cutler still is: a mystery.
Every time Cutler's name comes up now I think of three conversations from the past.
Conversation 1 was with Jerry Angelo, the former Bears general manager who traded for Cutler. He said that he looks for three qualities in a quarterback: accuracy, instincts and toughness.
Cutler proved his physical and mental toughness over and over again while playing behind perpetually inferior Bears offensive lines. However, his emotional toughness still needs to be refined and defined.
Instincts? This is difficult to evaluate because of the conditions Cutler has worked under. Even with better players around him, he'll have to demonstrate that he consistently can make the appropriate play.
Accuracy? The same doubt persists here because he has made too many awful throws during his four seasons as a Bear and seven overall in the NFL.
The misfires often are blamed on everything but Cutler himself. The assumption is if the Bears improve in other areas their quarterback will be as accurate as Flacco was during last season's playoffs.
But there are no guarantees that Trestman can improve Cutler's mechanics and, by extension, his accuracy.
"We reviewed his fundamentals," Trestman said. "That's a starting point. It takes a proactive approach, and Jay has been all in."
Conversation 2 was with current Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett, at the time the team's backup quarterback to Troy Aikman.
The Bears had just hired Dallas defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt as head coach, and I asked Garrett what is most important in Dallas' version of the West Coast offense.
The answer was universal to just about any system: quality decision-making.
Cutler's has been spotty and will have to improve to run Trestman's version of the West Coast.
Conversation 3 was with a couple of veteran national pro football writers at the time the Bears were in the mix to acquire Cutler.
They weren't sure Cutler had the temperament to become the quarterback his arm and mobility suggest he should be. To them, the way he begged out of Denver was a cautionary signal.
Yet even they agreed the Bears had to gamble on Cutler after going decades without a franchise quarterback. This season will determine whether they won the gamble and whether Cutler deserves one of those obscenely expensive quarterback contracts being thrown around the NFL.
Marc Trestman's primary assignment is to figure out whether Jay Cutler is elite, has been a victim of circumstances and will accomplish what Joe Flacco did.
It's about time to solve, for better or worse, the mystery.
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