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All signs point to big season for Cutler

Caption
Bears quarterback Jay Cutler throws a pass during a practice June 13 in Lake Forest. Cutler could be the first Bears quarterback to throw for 4,000 yards in a season. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

CHICAGO – Merely a mediocre season should push Jay Cutler to second place on the Bears’ all-time passing charts, behind only Sid Luckman.

Yet Cutler is capable of much more than mediocrity.

The Bears are counting on it.

Cutler, 29, is the most important player on the Bears again this season as the team prepares to report to training camp July 24. Optimism is high for the seventh-year veteran thanks to a healed thumb, a new offensive coordinator and his best receiving corps yet.

Barring injury, a 4,000-yard season and 25 touchdown passes should be within reach. Those are the type of statistics that, when paired with an above average defense, could vault the Bears into the postseason.

Although Cutler is not the type to publicize individual goals, he described offensive coordinator Mike Tice’s system as “refreshing.” Along with promoting Tice, the Bears hired Jeremy Bates as quarterbacks coach, the same role Bates had alongside Cutler in Denver.

The Bears’ new playbook has been tailored to help Cutler succeed.

“It’s stuff that I do well,” Cutler said during the team’s veteran minicamp at Halas Hall. “It’s stuff that I know.

“As a quarterback, you want to be in the same offense over and over and over again so you can get a good feel for it and so you know all the nuances. This offense, I was in it three years in Denver, so this is my fourth year in it. I’m very comfortable with it.”

It remains to be seen whether Cutler can be equally comfortable behind his offensive line, which allowed 49 sacks in 2011 (fifth-worst in the NFL) and 56 sacks in 2010 (worst in the NFL). Cutler absorbed those beatings under ex-offensive coordinator Mike Martz, who often called for Cutler to backpedal seven steps before releasing the ball under duress.

This season, expect more quick passes and fewer seven-step drops.

“I think we want to get rid of the ball,” Cutler said. “The ball is going to be gone. We want to get it to the playmakers.

“We want to get the ball to Devin [Hester] and Brandon [Marshall] and Matt Forte and get it out of my hands as fast as possible. I think that’s probably something that we’re going to work really hard on in training camp and those preseason games.”

To pass for 4,000 yards, Cutler will have to average 250 yards a game without missing a contest. Such a goal is difficult but attainable, with 10 quarterbacks surpassing 4,000 passing yards last season.

No quarterback in Bears history has reached the 4,000-yard milestone. The closest was Erik Kramer, who passed for 3,838 yards in 1995.

Cutler is the perfect passer to end the drought. After all, he already has achieved the feat once with Bates as his position coach in Denver.

In 2008, Cutler passed for a career-high 4,526 yards and 25 touchdowns to earn a Pro Bowl selection. The Bears acquired him in the spring of 2009, and since then he has averaged 3,086 passing yards and 21 touchdowns a season while missing seven starts in three years.

First-year general manager Phil Emery reunited Cutler with his favorite receiver this spring when he acquired Marshall from the Miami Dolphins. Marshall should serve as Cutler’s go-to target, allowing Earl Bennett, Alshon Jeffery, Hester and others to fill complementary roles.

Now, it’s up to Cutler to lead the way.

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