BOURBONNAIS – Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall are getting reacquainted.
Whether it’s on the field or in their friendship, the two seem inseparable as they attempt to establish what the Bears hopes could be the best passing combination in the history of a franchise known for running backs and defense.
“You can put a good quarterback and a good receiver together, but it’s not always going to mesh because sometimes you don’t see the field the same way or see things off the field the same way,” Marshall said. “And Jay and I, I don’t know why, but we see things the same way, and I’m excited to be under him and under his leadership.”
In Denver, the combo meshed almost from the start. Cutler finished third in the NFL in passing yards in 2008 (4,526), and Marshall was third in receptions (104) and seventh in yardage (1,265). They developed what the two have described as a sort of “sixth sense” for each other in the passing game, as well as a relationship that the Bears hope can help Marshall cope with the borderline personality disorder that he has cited for off-field problems.
So at Bears camp, it’s Cutler and Marshall at lunch. Cutler and Marshall playing board games in the dorm. Most important, it’s Cutler and Marshall on the practice field.
“It’s just natural,” Marshall said. “Our rooms are right next to each other, and I think we’re really focused and we understand how we need each other.”
The friendship was the easy part. The two had always kept in touch after leaving Denver, even if Marshall describes the relationship as “fireworks or fiery.”
“It’s always been that way, and it’s not always fun,” Marshall said. “It’s not always good, even walking around here (at camp).”
On the field, they are getting used to a new passing offense while working with quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates, their former QB coach in Denver. It’s not exactly the same as Denver’s attack, though it has many of the same elements. Sometimes the passing game flows, and often it is shut down by the Bears defense.
In one recent practice, Marshall hauled in three deep passes and a short one-hander.
“A couple nights ago we were doing well,” Cutler said. “It’s just on and off, but that’s with everybody in camp. It’s early. We’re clicking on stuff. Some other things we have to work through and get back some chemistry. But we’re definitely heading in the right direction.”
In another session, Marshall seemed a bit sloppy and had several passes go off his hands while being blanketed by Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Tillman. Dropped passes have plagued him at times in his career.
“He’s still trying to get used to it, but he understands and knows that that’s something that we have to work on,” receivers coach Darryl Drake said. “We can’t drop the football. I expect him to make those non-routine catches, and he expects to make them.”
During three years apart from Cutler, Marshall cemented his credentials as a receiver with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in Miami despite a revolving door quarterback situation and a hip injury. Cutler, meantime, has struggled without the bona fide go-to receiver and with staying healthy behind a porous line.
Cutler thinks the time he’s been away from Marshall and Bates both may have benefited all of them.
“We’ve all three been in different systems and kind of have a better feel of what we like and dislike,” he said.
The Bears haven’t had a 1,000-yard receiver since Marty Booker in 2002 and only once had a receiver lead the league in receiving yards. Their all-time passer played in the 1940s (Sid Luckman) and most effective quarterback-wide receiver passing combination might have been Bill Wade to Johnny Morris in the 1960s.
Cutler and Marshall appear capable of changing this and their first preseason test will come Thursday at Soldier Field against a team familiar to both: Denver.
“I think we’ve got more weapons now,” Cutler said. “We’ve got some guys that can really play on the outside. We’ve got some big tight ends. So we’ve got a lot of weapons. We’ve only got one ball.”
Chances are the place it will go most often will be toward Marshall.