Cutler cautiously confident as season opener looms
After more than five months of hype and hyperbole it's time to see how much quarterback Jay Cutler can improve a Bears offense that finished in the bottom quarter of the NFL last season.
Coach Lovie Smith says everything from the April 2 trade until now points to Cutler having a successful season.
"He's earned his stripes with the players in the locker room," Smith said. "Normally, the way you do that is just come in and not say a whole lot, go to work, and that's what Jay did. He's been super since Day One. He's fit in well.
"But it's about performance, too. Guys will always give you a chance, but they need to see you in certain situations. They've had a chance to see Jay in every imaginable situation except for the regular season. When you get on the football field, you have a chance to see exactly the type of player he is, and that helps a lot, too."
But no one outside the Bears' locker room believes Cutler has the wide receivers he needs to operate at peak efficiency. Sunday night's season opener on national TV against the Packers in Green Bay (Channel 5; WBBM 780-AM) will be a good indication of how far young starters Devin Hester and Earl Bennett have come and how far they have to go.
The Packers' cornerback tandem of Al Harris and Charles Woodson has 24 years of NFL experience and a long history of shutting down even the most experienced wide receivers. That's a mismatch in favor of the Packers, in the view of most.
"We don't really worry about what anybody else is saying about our receivers or tight ends or running backs," Cutler said. "We think we've got a good group. I have a lot of faith in those guys, and I know that they're very confident going into this one. As long as they go out there and do what they're supposed to do and execute the offense, we're not going to have any problems."
Hester and Bennett both have much to prove, but Cutler says he does, too.
"I've never been to the playoffs, never been to a Super Bowl," he said. "But it all starts Sunday. If we don't get that first one Sunday, we're going to have to come back and regroup. But we're looking forward to it. I think we're going to have a great shot at it."
Even though he's never been to Green Bay, Cutler realizes the enormity of the Bears-Packers rivalry and the 177 meetings that have preceded this one. But it's not his nature to be awestruck. He's 3-3 as a starter in prime time games, including 2-3 on Monday nights, and he's experienced some bitter rivalries.
"We got it going with the Chargers my last couple years in Denver," he said, "but this goes back a long time. Nothing really compares to this one. But it's a game no matter what time it is. It means a lot to us, it means a lot to them, it means a lot to the fans, and it's going to be a fun one."
Cutler said he was encouraged by the performance of his supporting cast in the third preseason game against the Broncos. The Bears faced a hostile crowd in a nationally televised Sunday night game.
"The Denver week was great preparation for us to come into a Sunday night game against Green Bay," he said. "It wasn't a preseason atmosphere, it was more like an end-of-the-year atmosphere, and the guys reacted really well to it.
"We started off a little bit slow. They were doing a lot of (different) stuff (defensively), which could happen in Green Bay. But once we got their looks down, guys started reacting and playing fast."
Asked if learned anything about his new teammates in the Broncos game, Cutler said: "That we're ready to go. We're ready for the season and for the real bullets."