Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 6/11/12
Jay Cutler has always had the physical tools to be an elite NFL quarterback, but injuries over the past two seasons with the Chicago Bears, including a fairly fluky thumb injury that ended his season early in 2011, have derailed that progress and led to concern that he will never be among the league's elite signal callers.

Offensive line play has been a particular issue for the Bears in Cutler's time with the team, as he has been sacked 110 times in three seasons (including a league-high 52 times in 2010).

But there is reason for hope that Cutler and the Bears can have a prolific offense in 2012, with an offseason trade bringing in a legit No. 1 wide receiver in Brandon Marshall, the free agent signing of running back Michael Bush to add depth there and rookie wide receiver Alshon Jeffery being drafted in the second round.

With that as a launch point, here are some reasons why I feel Jay Cutler will take a big step toward becoming one of the NFL's elite quarterbacks in 2012.

1. Brandon Marshall - Marshall has clearly had his issues in the past, leading to him being traded by two teams, but there is no denying his talent on the field. Cutler and Marshall were together in Denver from 2006-08, and Marshall had 206 receptions for 2.590 yards along with 13 touchdowns in 2007 and 2008 combined.

Cutler and Marshall clearly have some on-field rapport, and it also appears they are fairly close off the field. That relationship is likely to help both players succeed, and the Chicago offense will certainly benefit as well. The Bears' stretch without a wide receiver that has had 1,000 yards in a season, dating back to 2002 (Marty Booker), looks to be over.

2. Change In Offensive Scheme: The Hiring Of Jeremy Bates - Mike Martz is gone as Chicago's offensive coordinator, and his pass-happy and complicated scheme looks like a big factor in how many sacks Cutler has taken over the last couple years.

In his place is Mike Tice, who was promoted from offensive line coach and was the head coach for the Minnesota Vikings from late in the 2001 season through 2005. The Bears have also hired Jeremy Bates as quarterbacks coach/passing game coordinator, and he was quarterbacks coach for the Denver Broncos during Cutler's final two seasons in Denver.

The combination of Tice and Bates looks likely to bring a more balanced offense that may also allow Cutler to use his athleticism on designed roll-outs, which is clearly good news.

3. Being Fully Healthy - All reports say Cutler is fully recovered from last season's thumb injury, and he had started at least 15 games in each of his previous four seasons as a starter. So durability does not look to be a major issue for him at this point, despite any concerns over the Bears' offensive line play and their failure to make significant upgrades to the talent level this offseason.

A full season from right tackle Gabe Carimi, who missed the majority of his rookie season due to a knee injury last season, should provide a shot in the arm to the offensive line.


Final Analysis

As long as he can shake off the injuries that have bothered him the last two seasons, including the knee injury he suffered during the 2011 NFC Championship Game that led to him being criticized around the league, all the pieces seem to be in place for Cutler to have a very productive 2012. 

His lone fully-healthy season in Chicago (2009) yielded a league-high 26 interceptions, but Cutler also topped 3,600 passing yards and set a career-high with 27 touchdown passes. Avoiding turnovers, and perhaps avoiding sacks, will be a big key but production along the same lines as 2009 looks likely at this point with the upside for more with the upgrades the Bears have made at the skill positions.


 

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