Some fans and former players may not mind, and perhaps even applaud, the scuffles that have broken out at Bears training camp practices, viewing them both as a normal occurrence—true enough for all teams—and also as a sign of the team’s toughness.
But at this point, Jay Cutler has seen enough.
After Monday’s practice, the Bears’ quarterback called out his team for the all-too-frequent altercations, indicating that the chippiness is starting to get out of hand:
It’s a tough team, I think, but now we’re getting to the point where we are just kind of being a dumb team. So we have to find that fine line of when we’re being tough and when we’re being dumb. I think we’re right there on that edge, so now we have to start dialing it back and getting ready for games.
In particular, Cutler mentioned that he and the coaching staff have had discussions with new starting center Ted Larsen, who has been in the middle of at least four fights so far, and Kyle Long, who notably sprinted onto the field and dove onto a pile that formed during a Family Fest brawl that was coincidentally instigated by Larsen.
While Cutler stated that he and Larsen talked Saturday after Fan Fest, he had especially strong words for Long:
“He’s got to be smarter than that,” Cutler said. “We talked to him. He’s better than that. He’s smarter than that. He’s come a long ways in his years here. I know he’s protecting his teammates and doing everything possible, but there’s some things you just can’t do.”
To his credit, Long accepted the correction of his quarterback, acknowledging that incidents like what occurred on Saturday “can’t happen” and that he holds himself accountable.
Cutler’s message comes at a crucial point for the Bears, especially in light of starting center Hroniss Grasu’s season-ending injury on Saturday. For one, he’s wisely calling for players to be more controlled in such intense situations and not put themselves in positions to get needlessly injured (here’s looking at you, Kyle…).
Cutler on loss of Grasu: We're still feeling the effects.
— Chicago Bears (@ChicagoBears) August 8, 2016
Perhaps more importantly than that, though, Cutler’s public admonition of his team—especially of two veteran players that should know better by now—to play smarter and stay focused on the task at hand illustrates the growth the quarterback has undergone as a leader during his time as a Bear.
Right now, the veteran Cutler is acting like an extension of the coaching staff in his message and in his tone, which is a far cry from the perpetually petulant guy that pouted his way out of Denver and clashed with every offensive coordinator he laid eyes on (though let’s be real, none of them were very good).
We already know how well he can take the high road in addressing criticism, but his willingness to take charge of the locker room and assume the responsibility of correcting a potential team issue challenges outside criticism regarding his leadership and ultimately makes his team better, especially if his teammates can look to him as a steading presence during adversity.
Given the 8-ball the Bears are already finding themselves behind due to injury, youth, and uncertainty at multiple positions, they desperately need Cutler to be just that for this team.
And if the Bears want to live up to Daniel Jeremiah’s prediction that they could be the most underrated team in the league and have to potential to go 10-6 this season, they need to get in line behind their quarterback.
Hopefully Cutler can build on his solid season last year as well so that the Bears can follow his lead on that too.