LAKE FOREST, Ill. — Jay Cutler can envision bigger things for the Chicago Bears’ offense.
It just might take some time.
The Bears will step onto the field with a decidedly different cast when they open the season at the Houston Texans on Sunday.
“The talent level is definitely there,” Cutler said. “We’ve improved in a lot of different areas. How it is going to go on Sunday, I mean we’re confident and I’m sure they are confident as well. This group I think has the potential to get better and better each and every week.”
The Bears certainly had plenty of room to grow coming off a last-place finish in the NFC North at 6-10.
They go into their second season under coach John Fox and general manager Ryan Pace with an overhauled defensive front seven and no shortage of new players on offense. They added a major one this week when they signed three-time Pro Bowl guard Josh Sitton after he was a surprise cut by Green Bay.
That had to make Cutler a happy man.
After all, a quarterback who in the past took more than his share of big hits behind weak lines in Chicago now has two elite guards in Sitton and Kyle Long. That can’t hurt with J.J. Watt staring at them this week.
“Anytime you can get a guy like (Sitton), a level of player of his nature, you’ve got to be excited,” Cutler said. “He solidifies that offensive line and he’s going to help make us better.”
Sitton’s arrival allows rookie Cody Whitehair to move from left guard to center, which the Bears believe is his best position. And the way they were talking, he might be the one snapping to Cutler even though veteran Ted Larsen is listed No. 1 on the depth chart.
“Things come natural to him,” Cutler said. “He’s a natural football player, natural offensive lineman. With him, he just hadn’t snapped as much as some of these other guys. He is a heck of an athlete and the last couple days have been a smooth transition for him.”
It’s not just the line that got an upgrade. Cutler could be throwing to two top receivers in Alshon Jeffery and Kevin White.
That’s assuming the Bears made the right call when they drafted White with the No. 7 overall pick in 2015. They didn’t get a chance to find out last season because of a stress fracture in his left shin.
White finally appears ready to make his debut, though he did show up on Thursday’s injury report as a limited participant because of a hamstring issue.
Fox offered few details on that, saying, “Not being a surgeon or a doctor, they just tell me hamstring and that’s what I report to you guys.”
Assuming White is ready to play, it will be a long-awaited debut. At 6-foot-3 and 216 pounds, the Bears believe he has the size and skills to become a major threat. If he develops the way they envision, they could have a dominant pair as well as a cushion should Jeffery — playing this season on the franchise tag — eventually leave.
For now, Cutler feels comfortable with White. The two spent time together in Lake Forest and at the quarterback’s home in Tennessee during the offseason.
“I know a lot about Kevin,” Cutler said. “I know what he likes and what he doesn’t like. How he runs routes. It’s just a matter of experience. He just has to get out there and there are things he has to experience and go through in his first game. You got to get through the jitters and after that you just have to play football. He’s a very good football player.”