By Adam Hoge-
HALAS HALL (CBS) — Just barely a month into his new job, Marc Trestman was still seeking all the information he could while attending the NFL Combine in Indianapolis last February.
And who better to talk to about his quarterback than Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan?
“He asked me about Jay (Cutler) and my experience with him, and I shared with him exactly what I thought of him, and there was nothing but positive,” Shanahan said on a conference call Wednesday. “I’m a big fan of Jay Cutler’s.”
He should be. He was the head coach in Denver when the Broncos drafted Cutler with the 11th overall pick in 2006.
“We had a natural athlete that I thought did a fantastic job at Vanderbilt,” Shanahan said, reflecting on Cutler’s college scouting report. “He had a lot of pressure all the time on him, yet he sat in the pocket and made the throws he had to make in the SEC to give Vanderbilt a chance to compete. That really stood out to me. Just a very intelligent, very smart guy that worked extremely hard and had all the things that you look for in a quarterback.”
Cutler played three years in Denver, peaking in 2008 when he threw for over 4,500 yards and earned his only Pro Bowl nod. That offseason he was traded to the quarterback-starving Chicago Bears and expectations could not have been higher.
Unfortunately, Cutler failed to live up to those expectations in his first four seasons. The reasons were endless. Coaching, personnel, mechanics, decision-making. They go on and on.
But something is different this year. Cutler’s quarterback rating through six games is 95.2, nearly 11 points higher than his career average of 84.8. He’s already thrown for over 1,600 yards and his 12 to 6 touchdown-to-interception ratio is the best of his career.
“That’s the way he played for me,” Shanahan said.
So what’s different this year, compared to Cutler’s first four seasons in Chicago?
“Supporting cast,” Shanahan said. “I think you have to have a system that you believe in, and Jay picks up any system very quickly. You’re trying to get the best supporting cast to give your quarterback a chance to be successful, and that’s what I see that they’ve done to give him a chance to utilize his talents.”
One of those members of the supporting cast is Brandon Marshall, who Shanahan also coached in Denver with Cutler and his quarterback.
“I can tell you that Champ Bailey came to me the first time we practiced with Brandon Marshall and said, ‘What happened? How did we ever get this guy in the fourth round?’,” Shanahan said Wednesday.
What happened of course, was Marshall’s off the field drama, which Shanahan dealt with in Denver. But despite all that, the former Broncos head coach still appreciates the guy who caught over 100 passes for him in 2007 and 2008.
“One thing about Brandon, he’s a fun guy to be around,” Shanahan said. “He’s got an infectious personality. He’s a difference-maker.”
So is Cutler. And Sunday, Shanahan will host both of the difference-makers the Broncos drafted just three rounds apart in 2006.
Adam Hoge covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.