It's not surprising that there's a tangible difference between the Jay Cutler who came to the Bears in 2009 and the player who will lead what is expected to be one of the league's premier offenses in 2014.
Maturity has a lot to do with the change.
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Since he arrived via trade from the Denver Broncos, Cutler married reality-TV star Kristin Cavallari, and they had two baby boys, the youngest just more than a month ago. The 31-year-old Cutler is much more financially secure, having agreed to a seven-year, $126.7 million contract extension Jan. 2 that also provides the security of knowing he will be in Chicago for years to come.
Cutler credits his maturity to his marriage and the responsibilities that come with a young family, but he also believes the atmosphere created at Halas Hall by general manager Phil Emery and head coach Marc Trestman has helped him develop on and off the field.
"Looking back at my younger days in Denver, and even when I first got here, you do some things that are foolish and you regret, I think anyone does that," Cutler said. "Me and Kristin getting married, having kids, being involved with Phil Emery and 'Trest' and the way everyone operates kind of forces you to grow up."
Cutler's 89.2 passer rating last season was the highest of his eight-year career, even though he missed five games with ankle and groin injuries.
But without exhibiting increased maturity and greater leadership, Cutler wouldn't have been in position to cash in as he did. He says he wouldn't even be working for the Bears.
"If you don't want to grow up, you're probably not going to last," he said. "They're going to find somebody else."
Even Cutler's relationship with the media seems different. In earlier times, Cutler's attitude toward the media was often dismissive, smart-alecky or snarky.
After Tuesday's first day of the three-day mandatory minicamp, he was engaging, entertaining and expansive.
What's more important to fans expecting great things from the Bears, and who know that Cutler is more important than anyone for the team's success and failure, is the improvement that he has made since last season.
Cutler has never enjoyed the one-year-to-the-next continuity that 2014 presents in terms of personnel and coaching, and it shows.
"I've seen incredible progress," said veteran quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh, comparing the current Jay Cutler to the 2013 version. "When we got in here last year and evaluated him, we had a real good conversation with him about certain things we think every quarterback should do.
"(We said) 'Jay, it might not be natural to you, but we want you to try it.' And he did. To his credit, he's taken every bit of suggestion that we've given and he's embraced it. Everything from how he holds the ball, to how he lines up in the (shot)gun pre-snap, to how he drops back, to his throwing base, to his follow-through.
"Every little fundamental we have considered talking to him about, he's embraced, and he's worked real hard at it, so I think it's night and day."
That coachability is another change from the younger Cutler, who often clashed with former offensive coordinators Ron Turner, Mike Martz and Mike Tice.
Cutler said familiarity with personnel, scheme and staff should benefit him and the entire offense, which was No. 5 in passing yards and No. 8 in total yards last season and returns all the key ingredients.
"Guys (are) much more familiar with what the concepts are and the formations and everything, so that's definitely going to be a help," Cutler said. (There's) less thinking, and (we're) able to play fast."
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