Pro football

Bears' Jay Cutler shooting for an injury-free 2014 season

2014-06-17T20:00:00Z 2014-06-21T20:13:25Z Bears' Jay Cutler shooting for an injury-free 2014 seasonAl Hamnik al.hamnik@nwi.com, (219) 933-4154 nwitimes.com
June 17, 2014 8:00 pm  • 

LAKE FOREST | Jay Cutler's "hit parade" is nothing he can dance or snap his fingers to. It's painful, in fact.

Chicago's often-injured franchise quarterback, beginning his ninth overall season, has played all 16 games only once in five years with the Bears -- 2009, his first.

Cutler missed five games last season, one with a torn groin muscle and four with a high ankle sprain.

With the Bears' high-scoring offense intact and the defense overhauled, Cutler's health will be key in ending their three-year playoff drought.

That point was made during Tuesday's opening of the team's mandatory three-day mini-camp when the word "durability" came up several times.

"I had it safe until I got here and had the hit parade back there for a while," Cutler said. "We didn't have the line we have now and they're doing everything possible (to protect me).

"Last year, I had two freak injuries and I don't really foresee that happening again."

Cutler threw for 2,621 yards, 19 touchdowns, 12 interceptions and was sacked 19 times, the fewest number as a Bear.

In eight NFL seasons, he's been sacked 218 times in 104 regular-season games.

"When you start getting hit a lot, you start taking your eyes off the secondary area, you start to lose trust in the guys up front, and it gets difficult to play quarterback that way," Cutler said.

The Bears have five QBs in camp with Jordan Palmer, the projected backup, being challenged by free agents Jimmy Clausen, Jerrod Johnson and rookie David Fales.

"We have a crowded quarterback room and it's tough for those guys to get reps," Cutler said. "Jordan has been nicked up a little bit but they're all doing well.

"I feel for them trying to learn a whole new offense while everyone else is speeding ahead."

Ex-Bear Josh McCown left to become a starter for Lovie Smith at Tampa Bay, and replacing him won't be easy.

"Sometimes, you've got to be the go-between guy. Sometimes, you've got to let the starter vent about stuff," Cutler said. "And you've got to figure out what you're going to do when you go in without the reps.

"It's a very hard position to be in."

If it sounds like Cutler is becoming more caring and likable, you're right.

"Looking back at my younger days at Denver and when I got here, you do some things that are foolish in the way you act," Cutler said. "Me and Kristin (Cavallari) getting married and starting a family forced me to grow up.

"If you don't grow up here, they'll find somebody else."

Cutler won't be going anywhere after signing a seven-year extension last January that runs through the 2020 season and includes $50 million guaranteed.

The Indiana native has had to start over in gaining the support and respect of these Bears, with Charles Tillman, Matt Forte, Pat Mannelly and Lance Briggs as the lone holdovers from his first year in Chicago.

"Jay has taken over leadership of this team, especially on the offensive side," said guard Kyle Long. "He does a great job of rallying the guys and getting us ready to go.

"Every day presents a new challenge for us to get better, so Jay wants to make sure we clearly understand that with his 'follow me, guys' approach."

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