LAKE FOREST – The players are the same, but Jay Cutler is inheriting a better offense as he retakes the reins Sunday in Cleveland.
Bears coach Marc Trestman made it official Thursday that Cutler will start against the Browns for the first time since suffering a high ankle sprain Nov. 10.
As superb as Josh McCown has been in Cutler’s place, the players around him also have improved.
“Jay was handling this offense very, very well when he was playing. We were growing at the time, we were learning more about ourselves,” Trestman said. “We’re more evolved around Jay than we were when Jay played the last time.”
The offensive line, with two rookies and four new players, keeps getting better, as Trestman singled out that group for getting a chance to be together longer. The offense also has benefited from Trestman getting used to his players.
“I think [Trestman] for the last month has really got a bead and got a feel for what he likes to call, what we’re running well, what we feel comfortable with, what the offensive line likes in the running game,” Cutler said. “[Aaron Kromer]’s done a good job of mixing that stuff up. … Cleveland is a tough team; we’re going to have to get ready for them.”
Cutler, from the sideline, saw a positive impact in the run game from the improving offensive line when McCown was under center.
“[The offensive line] is playing exceptionally well. I think [Matt] Forte is doing everything well – blocking, running the ball, catching the ball out of the backfield,” Cutler said. “He’s kind of making it all go for us.”
The stats back it up, too, and though some can look at it as a result of McCown’s play, the Bears’ brass points to the evolving offense.
When taking into account Cutler’s seven starts, plus the first half of the Redskins game, the Bears averaged 94.9 yards a game and 4.1 yards a carry. In McCown’s five starts and the second half in Washington, the ground game averaged 137.3 yards a contest and 5.1 yards a touch.
“I think our offense is moving in the right direction as a whole – blocking, running, catching, throwing,” Kromer said. “So, as we progress and continue to grow as an offense, I think that we’ll all have more success as time goes.”
Briggs returns: Lance Briggs practiced for the first time since his shoulder injury Oct. 20 in Washington, but was limited. Trestman said he is not any more optimistic about Briggs’ chances to play Sunday, but this is a positive sign for a return for the Eagles game.
Browns injuries: Cleveland running back Willis McGahee did not practice for the second day in a row (concussion, knee) and is not expected to play Sunday. Chris Ogbonnaya would get the start.