For the majority of quarterbacks in the NFL, breakout seasons don't happen after the age of 30. However, there is one player that is poised to accomplish that feat this year; Vanderbilt's very own Jay Cutler.
The former Commodore is entering his ninth season in the NFL, and his sixth as the starting quarterback for the Chicago Bears. In his first five seasons with the team, Cutler has failed to make a Pro Bowl and has only led the team to the playoffs once (2010). He just turned 31, so conventional wisdom would say that since he has not broke out thus far, that what we have seen is the best we can expect from Cutler. But with the talent that surrounds him in Chicago, along with his powerful arm, Bears fans should be pleasantly surprised with the play of their quarterback this upcoming season.
While they failed to make the playoffs, Chicago is coming off one of its best offensive seasons ever. The team set franchise records for total offensive yards, passing yards, completion percentage, passing touchdowns, and first downs. Backup quarterback Josh McCown was a big reason for that, but Cutler still started 11 of the 16 games. With McCown signed in Tampa Bay, it is now all up to Cutler. All signs point to him thriving this year. The Bears are entering their second season with Head Coach Marc Trestman, one of the best offensive-minded coaches in the National Football League. With a full season of experience with Trestman under his belt, Cutler should feel more comfortable in the team’s offense this year. It also helps that the Bears are returning all ten of their other offensive starters this year, keeping fully intact an offensive unit that ranked 8th overall and 2nd overall in scoring.
A quarterback can only be as great as his offensive line allows him to be (as in, the offensive line has to make sure their quarterback is not planted on the turf after every snap). The Bears rolled the dice by starting two rookies on the same side of the line last year. But, Kyle Long and Jordan Mills proved the risk to be worthwhile by both turning in very solid rookie seasons. The two return to add even more consistency along the line to protect Cutler. The Bears also signed veteran center Brian de la Puente, creating a great amount of depth for the team’s offensive line.
The biggest factor determining Cutler’s success this season will be his offensive weapons. The Bears have possibly the best combination of wide receivers in the NFL in Pro Bowlers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. At 6’4" and 6’3", Marshall and Jeffery provide Cutler with two very big targets. Both also have great hands, and will go up and grab the ball from defenders. Marquess Wilson is now entering his second full season in the NFL, and will be another large target for Cutler, coming in at 6’3". Not to mention, veteran Josh Morgan is sure to add some football knowledge to the group of wide receivers. Of course, let’s not forget that in addition to this talented group of receivers, Cutler has the best pass-catching running back in the league in two-time Pro Bowler Matt Forte. Forte had 74 receptions for almost 600 yards last year to go along with three touchdowns. With all of these playmakers on offense, there is no reason for Cutler not to have a Pro Bowl year.
Back in January, the Bears signed Cutler to a massive seven-year, $126 million contract ($54 million guaranteed), leaving little doubt that they have total confidence in the former Vanderbilt quarterback. That is a lot of money for a quarterback who has not stayed healthy enough to start all 16 games since 2009. However while many might be questioning the deal now, if Cutler plays as well as he is capable of playing, the jeers will soon turn to cheers. As long as he can avoid the injury bug, Cutler is poised for a Pro Bowl season while leading his Bears team deep into the playoffs.
We wish our fellow Commodore good luck this season, and as always, Anchor Down!