Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler might be showing signs he's a different player this season. What is certain is that he's a less frustrated, healthier and better-protected player in new coach Marc Trestman's system.
Cutler showed signs of leadership and determination in last Sunday's 24-21 comeback win over the Cincinnati Bengals, something critics frequently pointed out he has lacked. More important, heading into this Sunday's game against Minnesota at Soldier Field, he is so far — after one game — unsacked behind an offensive line that was a huge question mark entering the season.
"We had two new guys on the right side, four new guys in general," Cutler said Thursday about his offensive line. "As we progressed through the game, I got more comfortable.
"Marc got more comfortable calling plays and being able to trust them. Even looking at the film on Monday there were times whenever I was moving around or I could have stepped up and I didn't, that's just gaining trust in those guys and not only throughout a game but throughout a season I'm going to get more and more trust with them."
Rookie guard Kyle Long and rookie tackle Jordan Mills, left tackle Jermon Bushrod and left guard Matt Slauson are all new starters and Cutler, who completed 21 of 33 passes for 242 yards and two touchdowns, said he didn't even think about the inexperience situation until reporters noted he hadn't been sacked.
"I knew I got hit a few times, but nothing big," he said. "But it hadn't occurred to me. It didn't occur to me at the end of the game when we were taking a knee. I was talking to the guys, telling them good and bad what they did, and proud of them, and didn't even occur to me that I hadn't been sacked. I don't know if that's a good or bad thing."
Not all the linemen thought they fared well, especially Long.
"We did a good job up front as a group, but at the same time I thought I played terrible," Long said.
Cutler was less harsh with his criticism.
"Kyle doesn't know what kind of game he had," Cutler said. "He's doing a good job. I think his mistakes are magnified because those other four guys are doing a great job and they don't make a lot of mistakes. So whenever someone does it usually is him because he is so young and he doesn't have as much experience as everyone else."
Keeping Cutler clear of pass rushers won't be as easy this week considering Minnesota has right defensive end Jared Allen and defensive tackle Kevin Williams is expected to return after missing the Vikings' season-opening 34-24 loss to Detroit. Allen has plagued the Bears in the past, but they signed Bushrod, the former Saints tackle, in part because he had success against Allen. Bushrod has limited Allen to just six tackles and no sacks in three games.
"We want to fight to keep our quarterback up as much as possible," Bushrod said. "Every game is not going to be like that. I wish it was, but it's not going to be like that."
If they keep Cutler upright, it's possible he could step up among elite quarterbacks during the final year of his contract. Trestman said he saw signs of leadership last weekend.
"All I could say is what I learned is he can be as consistent demeanor-wise during a game, during the ebb and flow of a game as he was during the ebb and flow of practices, because it wasn't all good on Sunday — there was adversity there," Trestman said. "There were some bad things that happened. There was some frustration. General frustration, not his personal frustration."
Trestman said Cutler stayed in the game mentally when a couple drives died early due to mistakes.
"His demeanor was even-keeled and he didn't seem to get frustrated at all," Trestman said.
As for Cutler's leadership abilities, "they (teammates) elected him captain," Trestman said. "I think that says a lot right there."