Bears coach Marc Trestman says he's "optimistic" starting quarterback Jay Cutler will be back Sunday against the Cleveland Browns after missing the previous four games with a high ankle sprain.
But not everyone would consider that good news, given the brilliant play of backup Josh McCown, who is the third-highest-rated quarterback in the NFL with a passer rating of 109.8. Trestman said the decision to go back to Cutler would not be more difficult for him because of McCown's performance.
Contact information ( * required )
"Josh has done exactly what we've asked him to do; he's performed very, very well as a backup, and he understands his role," Trestman said. "We've got a very close quarterback room. Guys are resolute in terms of how we operate and how we work. We all feel very, very good about the way we put this thing together. We're certainly very, very happy about the way Josh has performed, but this has been the plan, and we're going to execute it when Jay is ready to come back."
Although the rest of the team did not practice on Wednesday because of Monday night's game, Cutler was scheduled to go through a workout a couple hours after Trestman addressed the media. If he shows he can move at full speed, he will be announced as the starter on Thursday.
"I anticipate the workout will be a good one," Trestman said. "We don't have to make a decision (Wednesday) so we're not going to. But (Thursday) we will, because we have to (to give Cutler all the first-team reps). As long as he feels good, I anticipate that we'll be moving forward."
Cutler's workout was scheduled to include throwing and moving in the pocket, which he did last week on a limited basis, without any adverse reactions afterward.
"We'll have receivers there," Trestman said. "We'll work him through drops. We'll redirect him in the pocket, move him up and down, and try to get as much suddenness as we can. We saw it last week, but he's been off for three or four days now, so we want to see him do it again and make sure that he feels good and we feel good."
Team doctors and trainers have given Cutler the go-ahead to take the next step in his rehabilitation.
"He's been cleared from a standpoint of allowing us to work him out at full speed," Trestman said.
If Cutler is ready, McCown will be demoted the day after he was named the NFC offensive player of the week and three days after the best performance of his 11-year career. The 34-year-old threw 4 touchdown passes, ran for another and completed 27 of 36 passes for 348 yards and a 141.9 passer rating in a 45-28 victory over the Cowboys on Monday night. It was his third straight game with more than 300 passing yards, the only player in franchise history to accomplish that.
But Trestman said McCown will be fine going back to No. 2 on the depth chart.
"He's all about team," the coach said. "He has very little concern for his personal success. I think that's really very, very evident if you get to see him and know him on a day-to-day basis. Certainly I'm sure he's proud of what he's done on the field individually to help this football team.
"But when a player gets an award, the beauty of an award is it brings everything into perspective. And you realize you don't get that award because of you; you get it because of a lot of different guys who have done their job to put you in that position. And I'm sure that's what's going through Josh's mind presently. I really stand by that."
So, too, does McCown. He said as much after his career performance Monday night.
"I'm the backup. Jay's our starter," he said. "When Jay is healthy, Jay should be the starting quarterback. That's really it. My mindset is to serve this team as the backup quarterback as best I can and play efficient football and winning football in this situation to keep us in contention, so that whenever he takes back over, we're in position to make a playoff run."
McCown has done that. The Bears are tied with the Detroit Lions for first place in the NFC North at 7-6, although the Lions hold the tiebreaker, having swept the season series.
Now, it looks as if it'll be up to Cutler to keep the Bears in contention.
• Follow Bob's Bears reports on Twitter @BobLeGere.