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Offense rebounds from sluggish start

Posted by Larry Mayer on August 11, 2013 – 8:02 pm

When he was picked off by Zack Bowman Sunday, it marked the third time in 12 training camp practices that Jay Cutler has thrown an interception on the first play of team drills.

“I think what we’re going to do tomorrow is we’ll start with the ‘twos’ and run the ball three times,” joked coach Marc Trestman. “Then we can get on with the regular part of practice.”

Cutler also threw an interception on the Bears’ first play from scrimmage in Friday night’s preseason opener before rebounding to complete 6 of 7 passes for 56 yards. He also bounced back Sunday, throwing touchdown passes to Martellus Bennett on back-to-back plays in a red-zone drill.

“I don’t think it’s a concern,” Trestman said about the interceptions on the first play. “It is kind of odd. I don’t know that any of us have ever experienced that.

“It’s not a bad thing to fight back from failing on the first play of the game. We had that happen the other night and Jay showed he kept his poise. He had great demeanor throughout the game, through the time he was in there and he didn’t let it affect him. That’s a good sign; that’s something positive.

“We’re trying to draw positives out of it and that would be the positive that again today I thought the guys came back and made it a highly competitive practice.”

After a day off Saturday, the entire offense looked sluggish at the start of Sunday’s practice, which was attended by 15,000 fans, an all-time record for Bourbonnais by more than 3,000 people.

“It was a slow start offensively,” Trestman said. “We’re learning how to recover from adversity, no doubt about it, because I think practice picked up after the individual period. I thought offensively it was sluggish and then it got really competitive and there was an ebb and flow to practice.

“We worked hard running the ball against our cover-two and did well with that. We had a long third-and-long period. I think you saw a lot of really good awkward catches by our receiving corps.”

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Cutler to play briefly in opener

Posted by Larry Mayer on August 7, 2013 – 9:33 pm

Jay Cutler will start Friday night’s preseason opener against the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte, but the Bears quarterback likely will be pulled after a series or two.

“He’ll play very, very limited,” said coach Marc Trestman. “How limited, I don’t know. It could be three plays, it could be one play, it could be eight plays. I’m not trying to be smart. We’ll see how the flow of the game goes. If we go three-and-out, we’ll decide if he goes back in for another three. He may not. It’s really just a general feel on what we want to get accomplished that time.”

Some Bears starters won’t play at all. The ones who do join Cutler on the field likely will be removed from the game before the beginning of the second quarter.

“I would not expect our starters to play very long,” Trestman said. “We’ll start pulling them out some time in the first quarter. We’ll allow the guys competing for positions—certainly special teams positions, which is critically important—to get on the field and see how they work, see how they tackle, see how they play for the first time in a real game in a real football environment.”

One veteran who won’t play against the Panthers is receiver Earl Bennett. He was diagnosed with a concussion suffered last week in practice and has been ruled out of the game.

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Bears spreading ball around on offense

Posted by Larry Mayer on August 7, 2013 – 7:12 pm

Thrilled to be surrounded by playmakers such as Brandon Marshall, Martellus Bennett, Alshon Jeffery and Matt Forte, Jay Cutler isn’t too worried about keeping all of them happy.

“Those guys are good,” Cutler said. “They understand why we run certain plays and they’re not going to get the ball at certain times but they’ve got to help out their buddy to get him open.

“I think we’ve done a really good job of spreading it around and making sure that Marty gets balls, B gets the ball, Alshon, Matt Forte, and I think we’ve tried to give certain guys days off so we can spread it around and keep everyone happy.”

In Marc Trestman’s first season as coach, the Bears are expected to spread the ball around more in the pass game than they did last year when Marshall’s franchise-record 118 receptions were 74 more than his closest teammate. That means taking advantage of favorable match-ups and throwing to open receivers rather than forcing the ball to a favorite target.

“With any quarterback, the toughest thing to do is get comfortable and go outside the system to try to please somebody or get the ball to a certain person,” Trestman said. “I really feel like [Cutler] sees what we’re trying to get done here and make everybody a part of it to make it easier for him to just read a defense and go to the guys who are open.

“That’ll be a process. We haven’t reached our potential certainly. We’re just trying to do it every day, and we see signs that we can get it done and we’re excited about it. But then we’ve just got to go back to work the next day and keep grinding away, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

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Tipped passes don’t concern coach

Posted by Larry Mayer on August 6, 2013 – 5:12 pm

Jay Cutler had a handful of passes deflected at the line of scrimmage during 11-on-11 drills in Tuesday’s practice, but coach Marc Trestman wasn’t very concerned.

“The tipped balls, I don’t get too caught up in it right now because the pass rushers stop because they don’t want to get in the way and their hands go up or they jump up in the air for the ball,” Trestman said. “We try to discourage jumping up in the air for the ball so we can complete plays and let everybody go to the ball and finish. But we allow the guys to keep their hands up.

“The downside of that from an offensive side is when they stop their rush, which they normally don’t do, we lose the pass lane. Certainly we’re disappointed that we didn’t get the plays off. We hope it doesn’t carry over to the season. It usually doesn’t because those lanes are created.”

Defensive tackle Henry Melton deflected two passes that resulted in interceptions. He picked off one himself, while the other was hauled in by nickel back Isaiah Frey, ending a two-minute drill. Defensive end Shea McClellin also leaped high to intercept a Cutler pass at the line of scrimmage.

“Batted balls are a lot of things, but in practice we’re not going to try to, up front, knock the defensive linemen down when they bat a ball,” said offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer. “One of our rules is really don’t bat a ball in practice. Guys get excited and they can’t help but put their hands up and swat them. You live with it and you go on to the next play.”

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Offense comes up big in red zone

Posted by Larry Mayer on July 31, 2013 – 5:45 pm

The Bears defense boasts several talented Pro Bowlers. But the unit could have used a step ladder or an NBA power forward during a red-zone drill late in Wednesday’s practice.

Taking advantage of a size differential, Jay Cutler threw touchdown passes to 6-3 receiver Alshon Jeffery, 6-4 receiver Brandon Marshall and 6-6 tight end Martellus Bennett.

“We’re very lucky,” said coach Marc Trestman. “We thank [general manager] Phil [Emery] every day when we come off the field that he was able to bring in guys with this kind of size and girth, and we’re going to do our best to try to put them in a position to have success.”

Jeffery leaped high in the back of the end zone to snare the ball over 5-11 safety Major Wright, while Marshall hauled in a jump ball over 6-2 cornerback Charles Tillman in the corner.

“It’s good to have a situation like that where you can throw some fades into the side of the end zone,” said offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer. “And when you have to cover 53 yards in the end zone, it makes it tough.”

Other big targets in the Bears passing game include tight end Fendi Onobun (6-6) and receivers Terrence Toliver (6-5), Marquess Wilson (6-4) and Marcus Rucker (6-4).

“We’re got some big dudes out there,” Cutler said. “You just kind of have to put it up high, and they understand football, which makes it nice.”

Cutler has especially enjoyed bonding with Bennett, a complete tight end who signed with the Bears as a free agent after spending his first five seasons with the Giants (2008-11) and Cowboys (2012).

“He’s a joy to play with on and off the field,” Cutler said. “He brings a little bit of energy. He brings some edge to the huddle and he’s like a Brandon Marshall [in that] he’s really smart out there, understands defenses and knows where the holes are. It makes it easy on me.”

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Cutler, offense look sharp again

Posted by Larry Mayer on July 27, 2013 – 5:29 pm

For the second straight day, Bears coach Marc Trestman was pleased with how Jay Cutler and the offense performed in practice after opening with an interception on the first play of team drills.

“It was almost the same as yesterday,” Trestman said Saturday. “We had the early turnover. We had what I thought was very good execution the way we practiced. We spread the ball around between all our receivers and all our backs. Everybody has chances out there, particularly with the first and second groups. I thought Jay Cutler was sharp, notwithstanding the pick on the first play.”

After being intercepted by Charles Tillman on his first throw, Cutler rebounded to complete passes to Brandon Marshall, Martellus Bennett, Michael Bush and Armando Allen, among others. The quarterback’s most impressive completion came when he rifled the ball to Marshall near the left sideline just out of the reach of Lance Briggs.

While Trestman was impressed with Tillman’s interception and forced fumble Saturday from a defensive perspective, he stressed ball security when talking to players and reporters after practice.

“As I told the team, we’ve got to take care of the football offensively,” Trestman said. “It’s never going to get any tougher to take care of the football than it is at our practices with our defense. If we can take care of the football there, we’re going to feel good about taking care of it each and every play. So the No. 1 priority is that when you’re watching practice out here that these guys are putting the ball away and we’re keeping the ball off the ground.”

Racing in and out of the huddle, the Bears continued to practice at such a fast tempo that they finished Saturday’s workout about 13 minutes earlier than scheduled.

“I told the guys we didn’t extend practice because we had the time,” Trestman said. “We didn’t add more plays because we had the time. We’ve got a plan that hopefully will get us through training camp safely and in the kind of football shape and condition we need to play this season. If we can get them off their feet early because they’re getting in and out of the huddle quickly and they’re getting to different phases quickly, that’s just going to help us get off our feet and get more rest.”

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Trestman pleased with execution

Posted by Larry Mayer on July 26, 2013 – 4:33 pm

Jay Cutler threw interceptions on the first and last plays in team drills but otherwise performed well during the Bears’ first training camp practice Friday in Bourbonnais.

Safety Chris Conte picked off a deflected Cutler pass on the first snap, but the quarterback rebounded to connect with receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, tight end Martellus Bennett and running back Matt Forte, among others.

“Chris Conte made a heck of a play in the back end and got the defense off to a fast start,” said coach Marc Trestman. “In between, I thought the offense picked it up. There was a lot of good execution out there. We spread the ball around to our guys. We intended to do that today. We got off to a good start. I thought Jay was extremely sharp throughout the middle portions of practice.”

Asked if he saw any difference in Cutler’s footwork, Trestman said: “I thought he was really on rhythm today. It’s a process throughout training camp we continue to work on. He got the ball out of his hand on time. You can’t configure the pass rush [in a non-contact practice], so it’s not quite the same as it’s going to be on Sunday [when players wear pads]. But he’s doing everything he has to do. Until you look at the tape, you don’t know. But I thought he had a very good day.”

Trestman was not pleased with false starts by offensive linemen Jermon Bushrod, James Brown and Jordan Mills. After each infraction, the coach skipped ahead to the next play.

“The penalty is not on the player; the penalty is on the team,” Trestman said. “Everybody loses a rep and they feel that. Nobody wants to lose a rep out in practice, so there’s an accountability factor within that. So if you see a guy jump offsides, we generally just move on to the next play because that’s what’s going to happen in a game.”

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Cutler, Marshall surprised by Allen hit

Posted by Larry Mayer on November 28, 2012 – 1:10 pm

Having played against Jared Allen twice a year in the AFC West, Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall agreed that the cheap shot the Vikings defensive end delivered last Sunday was out of character.

On Antoine Winfield’s interception return early in the second half, Allen launched himself into the head of Bears guard Lance Louis, who suffered a season-ending knee injury on the play. The NFL has reportedly fined Allen $21,000 for the illegal hit.

“He’s not that type of player,” Cutler said. “I was surprised by it, to be honest. He’s not that type of guy. He plays extremely hard. He usually does things the right way. I’ve always respected him. It kind of caught me off guard.

“You look at the play and he hit him in the head. He did all of the things he shouldn’t do. Whether there’s a fine, it’s going to be up to the league office. But I don’t think it’s indicative of the player or person he is.”

As Broncos teammates, Cutler and Marshall played two games a year in 2006-07 against Allen, who spent his first four NFL seasons with the Chiefs before being traded to the Vikings in 2008.

“He has always been a competitor and a good sport, so that shocked me seeing that play,” Marshall said. “I know he plays aggressive and he plays physical, so I wasn’t surprised by him cracking back. But to launch at Lance’s head, that was a little shocking.”

On Monday, coach Lovie Smith and defensive end Israel Idonije called the block “unnecessary.”

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Cutler misses practice due to concussion

Posted by Larry Mayer on November 15, 2012 – 4:40 pm

Jay Cutler’s status for Monday night’s game in San Francisco remains uncertain after he was held out of practice Thursday due to the concussion he sustained in last Sunday night’s loss to the Texans.

“I know you have a lot of Jay Cutler questions, but there’s not a whole lot I can say except for—as I said yesterday—he’s getting better,” said coach Lovie Smith. “I don’t know if he’ll be able to go this week or not. He did not practice today and that’s about all I can really tell you.”

Cutler, who must be cleared by Bears doctors and an independent neurological consultant before he can participate in practice or a game, has improved each day this week.

“He’s feeling better and it normally goes like that,” Smith said. “You get better each day with an injury, with just how you’re feeling. That’s why you’re optimistic and you have to take it each day, and we’re hopeful tomorrow he’ll be better than he is today.”

Like Cutler, defensive end Shea McClellin did not practice Thursday after suffering a concussion against the Texans. Defensive tackle Matt Toeaina (calf) also sat out. Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (hand) was limited and defensive tackle Henry Melton (back) practiced without restrictions.

The Bears are hoping that Jeffery will be able to play after missing the last four games.

“He’s a good football player,” Smith said. “He was really playing good football for us when he went down. I know we can’t wait to get him out there. As you look at the timetable that we kind of had in mind when he went down, this is getting about close to that time, so we’re hopeful. We could use him.”

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Marshall says Cutler has ‘clutch gene’

Posted by Larry Mayer on October 31, 2012 – 2:39 pm

Receiver Brandon Marshall solicited nicknames from the Chicago media Wednesday to describe Jay Cutler’s ability to perform at a high level late in games.

The Bears quarterback leads the NFL with a fourth-quarter passer rating of 132.0, ahead of the Broncos’ Peyton Manning (119.6) and the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers (110.6).

“A couple weeks ago I was trying to figure out a name,” Marshall said. “I texted him over a few nicknames like ‘The Closer’ and ‘Ace.’ I’m trying to figure out a nickname for him, so if you guys can help me out, I’d appreciate it. Jay’s one of those guys where he has that clutch gene. You hear guys talk about it and some believe in it, some don’t. But Jay has it.”

Cutler demonstrated that gene last Sunday when he led the Bears to a 23-22 comeback win over the Carolina Panthers. Trailing 19-7 midway through the fourth quarter, he threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to tight end Kellen Davis and then set up Robbie Gould’s game-winning 41-yard field goal as time expired by engineering a nine-play, 55-yard drive.

In the first three quarters, Cutler completed only 7 of 14 passes for 80 yards with one interception, two lost fumbles and six sacks. In the fourth period, he connected on 12 of 14 passes for 106 yards with one touchdown and a 122.0 rating.

“We know what [Cutler] can do,” said center Roberto Garza. “If you give him time, he can connect with those big-time receivers that we have out there. We’ve been practicing that [two-minute drill] since we started training camp, getting the work in, and it obviously paid off.”

Part of Cutler’s success in the fourth quarter this season can be attributed to the Bears protecting leads against defenses that are stacking the box to try to stop the run.

“Our defense is putting us in positions where we’re leading games and [opponents] are trying to get the ball back, [playing] a lot of single high [safety], which makes it a lot easier on the outside throwing the ball,” Cutler said. “We’ve hit some big plays out there. The way our defense is playing and carrying leads into the fourth quarter makes my job easier.”

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