On the first “Jay Day’’ of the regular season, Cutler stepped to the podium at Halas Hall on Wednesday and said, yeah, the Bears have all kinds of shiny new toys, but they won’t mean squat if the line can’t block.
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You can’t blame Cutler for continuing to shine the harsh klieg light on the line, especially when you consider the first two games of the season. The Bears ought to beat the Colts, but Indianapolis is converting to a version of the 3-4 defense. The Packers, meanwhile, already have won a Super Bowl with a 3-4 defense. The Bears have long had trouble blocking the 3-4 defense.
I’d come to believe the Bears’ biggest concern was the defensive line’s inability to get to the quarterback. Julius Peppers can play, sure. He’s a Hall of Famer. The rest of them? Not even a faint whiff of consistent pressure. The more double- and triple-teams for Peppers, the more the rest of them get exposed as impotent.
But Cutler’s focus on the offensive line is making me rethink my biggest worry about a team I’ve picked to go 16-0.
What were they doing for five weeks and four practice games during training camp?
Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but it sounds as if J’Marcus Webb at left tackle and Chris Spencer at left guard were the lesser of several evils. That’s Cutler’s blind side, and if that’s the way it came down -- players “winning’’ a spot because the competition was inept or absent -- then I think we all understand why the quarterback continues to make it an issue. You’d do the same thing if you faced dismemberment every play.
But wait. There’s more. Offensive coordinator and line maestro Mike Tice issued a surprising warning about the health of right tackle Gabe Carimi, Tice said Carimi isn’t at full speed in his comeback from a knee injury that ended his 2011 season in Week 2. Oh, and Tice said Carimi’s endurance in his leg will take time.
As if the left side wasn’t enough for Cutler to worry about.
The linemen know there is pressure on them, and if they didn’t know it, their quarterback just reminded them. What Cutler said was true, which is exactly what makes it so jarring when it comes out of a Lovie Smith-coached team.
It recalls what Cutler said several months ago when questioning whether both tackle spots and left guard would be filled adequately, or at least sorted out to some professional degree.
Whether he was calling out his blockers or challenging his linemen, then or now, Cutler was at least admitting he saw and feared the same thing we did. He ought to tell his head coach, who speaks as if he lives in a bubble where coddling is the one sustainable food source.
Smith’s lame dismissal of statistics revealing that Webb was the worst starting left tackle in the league was an insult to Bears fans’ intelligence. Maybe Smith doesn’t believe there’s such a thing as “Bears fans’ intelligence.’’
Smith’s arrogance and public blind defense of his roster is a big reason players love him. A coach providing that kind of cover in the face of something obviously embarrassing is said to be a big reason the Bears play hard for Smith.
But here’s the problem with that: It’s not about the offensive linemen playing hard, it’s about their playing well.
Cutler knows it. But he sounds worried. Uh-oh.