By Laurence Holmes-

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. (CBS) — By not re-signing Olin Kreutz, the Bears made a it very clear; this is Jay Cutler’s offense now. It’s a gamble on a player that the Bears have invested time and nearly $50 million in. Now the question: Is Cutler up to the challenge?

Through his time with the Bears, Kreutz was the mainstay. He was the dependable, if not always spectacular, rock that the rest of the players could lean on, including Cutler. With him gone it leaves a void that the Bears want to be filled by Cutler.

“The leader of your football team needs to be your quarterback.” Lovie Smith said.

Smith is hopeful that players, especially Cutler, will see this as an opportunity.

“Other guys step up. That’s what happens.” Smith said. “You have good leaders and things happen and you find out that some of the players that haven’t been in that leadership role really do have that ability, when it‘s their time.”

That now becomes the challenge for Cutler. In the past, when you walked into the Bears lockeroom, it was clear that Kreutz had control of it. Whether it was by words, actions or the occasional physical altercation, there was no question of who the captain of captains was. There was a level of respect that is earned by being assignment sound, tenured and accountable.

Cutler will now have to demonstrate a similar command, which can be punctuated by his play. It’s something that Jerry Angelo made mention of when he spoke about Kreutz’s departure.

“To me leadership starts with paying the price. That’s what leadership is. Leadership isn’t talk. Leadership is action.” Angelo said.

So far, Cutler has shown strong leadership. He’s rehabbed his knee. He was the first player to report to camp. He comes into camp in tremendous shape for the 2011 season. So much so, that it prompted Lovie Smith to say that Cutler was in “the best shape of his career.”

Now the Bears QB will have to rise above getting frustrated with all the moving parts that the offense is going to have this year. As it stands now, he will have a new center. The Bears are hoping that it will be Chris Spencer. He’ll have a second-year player in J’Marcus Webb playing one tackle spot and possibly a rookie, Gabe Carimi, playing the other. He’ll have to keep his receivers happy, which now includes Roy Williams, who has a history of calling out quarterbacks.

On top of that, Cutler can’t just be Mike Martz’s signal caller. He’ll have to be the bridge to sanity when the Bears lose sight of Matt Forte and the run game. These are all challenges that are made easier when Olin Kreutz has your back.

It’s a daunting task, but the Bears feel that they have a “franchise quarterback” in Cutler and it’s a burden that he has to accept. When Cutler arrived, the Bears made him co-captain of the offense along with Kreutz. At the time it seemed perfunctory. A nod, to the hotshot quarterback the Bears traded for. Now, the “C” on his jersey takes on more significance. There is no Kreutz to lean on. The Bears have taken the training wheels away. Jay Cutler, this your team now. What are you going to do with it…

Notes from Sunday’s practice:

-Marcus Harrison is still trying to get into shape. The 4th year tackle, spent most of the afternoon on the back fields with the Bears training staff running.

-I’ve joked in the last few days that these practices are like Freshmen B-team practice. You remember, when the coach would look at a field filled with confused 14 year olds and say, “Gentlemen this is a football…”. Well today I got more evidence that I was right. There are 90 guys here. Most of them new. There are no names on the jerseys in camp, so a lot of the new guys have a piece of tape with their name written in sharpie. This makes it so a coach doesn’t have to refer to a player he by number…hilarious.

-With all the guys in camp, I find it interesting that the Bears haven’t given out jersey #82.

-During the special teams period, the Bears worked on bringing out deep kickoffs. Something they’ll give Devin Hester more freedom to do according to special teams coordinator, Dave Toub.

-Gabe Carimi got work at RT with the 1st unit and LT with the 2nd. When he was at RT, J’Marcus Webb moved over the left side, rotating in and out with Frank Omiyale.

-Lance Briggs and the defense continues to taunt (in a fun way) the offense. When they get to 7-on-7 drill, Briggs screams out: “Who’s drill is this?” And the other defenders yell: “OUR DRILL!” It’s been the most entertaining part of the first two practices.

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