On the NFL
8:06 PM CDT, May 13, 2012
Alshon Jeffery was brought to Chicago to help take Jay Cutler's game to a place it has never been.
And Jeremy Bates was brought to Chicago to take Cutler's game to a place it once was.
If Cutler was not playing the best football of his life last fall, it's because he had played the best football of his life three autumns earlier with the Denver Broncos.
Cutler and Bates were together for Cutler's three seasons in Denver, but Cutler's best year in 2008 was Bates' only season calling plays for him.
So this makes Bates the world's foremost authority on Cutler the quarterback, and arguably the most capable being on the planet to cull the best from No. 6.
Bates has been studying tape of that 2008 season in an attempt to take Cutler's game back to the future.
"We ran that system in 2008 and now we can grow from it and see what we can take advantage of," said Bates, who met the media for the first time as Bears quarterbacks coach Sunday at rookie camp in Lake Forest.
Cutler clearly was part of the lure that brought Bates to Chicago. Cutler lobbied for Bates, as he did in 2010 when the Bears tried to hire Bates as their offensive coordinator.
Even though people who were around Cutler and Bates in Denver will tell you their relationship was volatile at times, their respect and admiration for one another appears genuine.
Bates said he was excited to be with Cutler, whom he calls a "Pro Bowl talent." The only time Cutler made the Pro Bowl was after the 2008 season.
The 2012 version of Cutler may be more similar to the 2008 version than the 2011 version if the way he is used has anything to do with performance.
"We are going to go back to what we did in Denver technique-wise," Bates said. "Everyone teaches quarterbacks differently."
Bates' idea of a quarterback drop is different form Mike Martz's idea. Whereas Martz would have Cutler backpedal, Bates is more likely to have Cutler roll.
Bates, interestingly enough, learned much of his quarterback technique philosophy from working with former Bears offensive coordinator John Shoop when both were with the Bucs in 2004.
One of my criticisms of the way the Bears have used Cutler is they have not often taken advantage of his mobility and ability to throw on the move. They took a quarterback who can make plays all over the field and made him play in a phone booth too often. That sounds as if it's about to change.
"In my opinion, Jay is very athletic," Bates said. "He was a great shortstop in high school. If you go back and watch the Vanderbilt tape, he was running all around the field making plays. We're going to use his feet. He's athletic, he can throw on the run, he can see down the field on the run. We're going to try to find everybody's strengths and use them to our advantage."
In addition to using Cutler's feet, Bates wants to use Cutler's head too. Cutler likely will be given more autonomy to change plays at the line of scrimmage than Martz ever gave him. And it sounds as if the offensive game plans may present a challenge for the Bears as well as for their opponents.
"We're going to give him a lot of clubs to hit, if you will, and we're going to keep practicing every day and see what clubs we like to play with on Sunday (Sept. 9) against Indy," he said.
Cutler is 29 year old. He was 25 when Bates last worked with him. He has 41 more games and 1,301 throws on his resume since they last were together.
So while Cutler has not changed drastically, he has grown in three years.
"He's definitely more mature as a player because he's had good games, bad games and you get better every game," Bates said. "The more experiences, the more snaps, you're always going to get better at your craft."
Bates may have improved at his craft too. After the 2008 season, he left the Broncos to become quarterbacks coach at Southern California. He stayed there one year and then followed Pete Carroll to the Seahawks, where Bates was named offensive coordinator.
But Carroll bounced Bates after one year, and Bates was out of football last season.
You wonder what might have been if Bates had come to the Bears in 2010.
"We're not going to look in the rearview mirror," Bates said. "Things happen for a reason. At the end the day, I think I'm in the right place."
Cutler undoubtedly agrees.
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