All that was missing was a Shanahan and a view of the Rocky Mountains.
Short of raising the Halas Hall practice field to a higher altitude, the Bears have done virtually everything possible to recreate the Denver experience for quarterback Jay Cutler.
There Cutler was on a practice field Wednesday in front of about 50 Chicago media members stuck in the local sports abyss for the Bears' first public OTA — Overanalyzed Team Activity. Together again in a different time zone but a similar offense, Cutler took directions from quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates and tossed tight spirals to wide receiver Brandon Marshall.
The Bears staged this reunion so well they really should consider offering birthday parties and bar mitzvahs.
"I think we all share the same type of mind," Marshall said of the ex-Broncos trio. "We strive for greatness."
Cutler enjoys such familiarity with his coach that, just two practices into the offseason installation, he felt comfortable telling Bates what plays to eliminate because, "I don't like them." The last time all three worked together, in Denver four years ago, Cutler and Marshall went to the Pro Bowl and Bates ascended to NFL genius status.
To hear the hyperbole coming out of so many mouths already, Chicago will be no different from the good ol' days. Big picture, the Bears better hope it is: The 2008 Broncos were 8-8 and missed the playoffs.
"He's a guy that I've missed," Cutler said of Marshall. "It's good having him back. He's a little bit different guy than he was in Denver in a good way. He's a really good influence for these younger guys."
True, but the most influential person at Halas Hall not named McCaskey remains Cutler.
The last time we saw Cutler throw a football before Wednesday, Chargers cornerback Antoine Cason caught it. Cason stepped in front of a slant pass intended for receiver Johnny Knox, who slipped and the Bears' season fell. It has been six months since Cutler broke his right thumb trying to tackle Cason on the interception return and all that has changed about the Bears is, well, everything.
The team said goodbye to the playoffs and, eventually, Mike Martz and the offense that endangered the quarterback species. They removed general manager Jerry Angelo and the eyes that never could spot a 1,000-yard wide receiver to bring out Cutler's best. They traded for Marshall and drafted a tall, big-play clone, Alshon Jeffery, to complement Cutler.
Finally, the Bears acted like a franchise that realized it had a franchise quarterback, who appreciated aiming at targets he could find without needing a scope.
"It changes where you can throw the ball, when you can throw the ball," Cutler said of adding two receivers taller than 6-foot-3.
I came curious whether Cutler still could throw with the same accuracy and velocity as he did before hand-picked surgeon Randy Viola repaired his broken thumb. The answer came when Cutler delivered a 25-yard dart on an out route to rookie tight end Evan Rodriguez in-between three defenders.
Nice work, Doc.
Now expect more wealth to follow health for Cutler, perhaps as soon as before the beginning of the season. In a league all about the quarterback, the contract clock is ticking. With two years remaining on a five-year, $50 million extension he signed in 2009, the Bears must realize the benefits for stability and the salary cap in locking up a 29-year-old quarterback whose presence affected every offseason decision.
Given the circumstances, it would not shock me if Cutler signs a long-term deal before disgruntled running back Matt Forte. If the Bears budget at least $20 million in guarantees to one offensive back, investing in Cutler is smarter money than Forte too. When Cutler was asked how much he misses Forte at organized team activities, interestingly, he answered by mentioning his potential replacement.
"(Michael) Bush is doing a good job out here for us," Cutler said. "We all know what Matt can do for this offense. We all expect to have Matt at some point. When he gets here, he's going to step right in."
How well Chris Williams steps in at left tackle, where the former first-round pick will battle J'Marcus Webb, matters just as much. As does the healthy return of right tackle Gabe Carimi and the development of an offensive line Cutler indirectly has challenged. Not to mention the play-calling flexibility of offensive coordinator Mike Tice, whose willingness to adapt game plans to what worked for the Broncos in '08 reflects an offense wisely designed solely for Cutler.
"It's a give-and-take," Cutler said. "That's a breath of fresh air."
That's the way it usually feels in a mile-high atmosphere.
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