BOURBONNAIS, Ill. – Like a kid eyeing his presents, Jay Cutler could hardly contain his excitement.
The Chicago Bears made some big changes, and for a guy who grew up in Santa Claus, the offseason was like one big Christmas celebration. Now, expectations are soaring, and the spotlight is shining brighter than ever on the man behind center.
Cutler is ready to rip off the wrapping paper.
This is the most comfortable I think Ive been going into a camp with the offense and what were doing scheme-wise and the talent around me, Cutler said this week.
Theres a different vibe around the Bears as they headed into their first training camp practice Thursday, after a disappointing 8-8 finish last season. Theyre eyeing a big run in the NFC and a trip to the Super Bowl thanks to the moves they made in the offseason.
New general manager Phil Emery wasted little time putting his stamp on the roster, filling a huge hole by acquiring Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall from Miami.
He also brought in a solid running back to go with Matt Forte in Michael Bush and added a legitimate No. 2 quarterback, Jason Campbell.
Hes very focused, Emery said. As far as quarterbacks who Ive had a chance to watch, that includes Michael Vick, which before his situation happened, he had one of the finest OTAs and spring balls that Ive ever seen. I would put Jay there and above. Some the throws he made in OTAs and in our minicamps were some of the finest throws Ive seen.
In the past, Cutlers defenders could point to the lack of a true No. 1 receiver, the struggles on the offensive line and the revolving door at offensive coordinator.
Receiver is no longer an issue now that Marshall, his old friend from Denver, is here. They put up big numbers when they were with the Broncos, and theyve been attached at the hip since they arrived at training camp.
Its always been that way. Its not always fun, not always good, Marshall said with a smile before practice.
Cutler is glad to have the 6-4 Marshall, along with another big target in 6-3 rookie Alshon Jeffery.
The offensive line remains a huge question mark and the revolving door at offensive coordinator took another turn, when the Bears promoted line coach Mike Tice to replace Mike Martz.
Tice figures to run an offense that caters more to Cutlers strengths.
It helps, too, that one of Cutlers mentors in Denver, Jeremy Bates, is now the quarterbacks coach.
The question is: How successful can Cutler be?
The past two seasons ended with him sidelined, a knee injury knocking him out of the NFC title game two years ago and a broken right thumb cutting short last year.
Also, Cutlers two lowest quarterback ratings came in his first three seasons in Chicago. He also completed a career-low 58 percent of his passes last year.
But with the moves the Bears made, Cutler could be poised for a big season.
We still have some work to do, Cutler said. Weve added some pieces. We got Matt (Forte) back on board, so thats going to help. I think hes really going to like the offense. Brandon Marshall is a new addition. I think the offensive line is going to be excited to put the pads on and get some work done.