BOURBONNAIS – Barring serious injury issues, the Bears’ 2014 offense is going to be very good, and quarterback Jay Cutler appears poised for his biggest year yet.
Some believe there is reason to fear Cutler missing appreciable time, even if that conclusion is not supported by the facts.
After taking over as the starting quarterback in Denver as a rookie, Cutler started 37 straight games before being traded to the Bears. He then made 41 of a possible 42 starts in his first three years as a Bear before breaking his thumb and missing the final six games of 2011.
Cutler returned to start 15 of 16 games in 2012 and then missed five games last year because of another fluke injury, one most of us never had even heard of until he suffered it. Then he tried to return to action too soon.
In spite of questions about his durability and toughness when he missed the second half of the 2010 NFC title game with a knee injury, if anything, Cutler has proved himself to be tough and durable over his eight seasons in the league.
But if he does get dinged this year, the Bears might have a real problem.
A couple of months ago, I wrote that Jordan Palmer is every bit as gifted physically as Josh McCown and that he would be as good or possibly even better if Cutler goes down.
But Palmer has struggled in minicamp and the first four days here in Bourbonnais and I’m beginning to think I was wrong.
Fortunately for Bears fans, quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh disagrees.
“He knows the system very well,” Cavanaugh said Monday morning. “He’s a tall, strong-armed guy who’s smart and he makes good decisions, so what else do you need in a quarterback other than experience?”
Some have wondered if the Bears are so enamored of Palmer, why is Jimmy Clausen here?
General manager Phil Emery told us on the first day of training camp it’s because when they brought in Clausen for a look, he had “The best workout we’ve seen from a quarterback since I got here.”
Then there’s this year’s first of two Bears draft picks in the sixth round, David Fales.
“What I like about David is, for a rookie who really got exposed to our offense in a pretty quick minicamp, he’s learned the verbiage really well,” Cavanaugh said. “He can hear it, he can get a visual of it and he can call it in the huddle and not miss a beat just like the other guys. He’s an accurate passer. If you’re a good decision-maker and you’re accurate and you’re smart, then you’ve got a chance to play and we’re excited about him.”
For his part, Clausen knows he’s in a dogfight for the backup quarterback spot.
“I feel good each and every day just coming out and doing my best just to compete and work as hard as I can,” Clausen said. “I’m still getting a grasp of the offense, but I’m still a long ways away.”
It looks to me and a number of other veteran observers like, if the season started tomorrow, Clausen is the second-best QB in camp. Cavanaugh is just glad coach Marc Trestman doesn’t have to make that call yet.
“It’s very early, I’m just trying to rotate ‘em (Palmer, Clausen and Fales) through,” Cavanaugh said. “They’re great about it, too. They work well together, they like each other, they’re encouraging to each other, they know there’s competition and there’s no such thing as a depth chart right now other than Jay Cutler is the starter.”
The question the Bears must answer in the next five weeks is, should Cutler need relief at some point this season, are any of the other QBs in camp up to the task?
I have my doubts. But, it is worth noting that coming out of camp last year many knowledgeable insiders were questioning what McCown had done to secure the backup spot, too.
• Hub Arkush is the editor of Chicago Football magazine and ChicagoFootball.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Hub_Arkush.