LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) Jay Cutler can sense a different vibe, a calm in the huddle as the Chicago Bears enter their second season under coach Marc Trestman.
An offense that put up big numbers is back intact and expectations are high heading into this weekend's opener. The Bears host the Buffalo Bills in what they hope is the start of a run to the playoffs after missing out for the sixth time in seven years last season at 8-8.
''We've got to make sure that we stay focused and treat every day like it's the first day,'' Cutler said. ''But there's definitely a calmness, I think, in our huddle, knowing we've been through a lot of situations. We've worked together. Everyone has a good feel. We all enjoy playing together.''
This is supposed to be the season where Cutler is finally free of obstacles after getting tripped up too often.
That was the thinking when camp started, at least. There are some concerns after the defense and special teams struggled in the preseason, but now is when it all starts to count.
In his first five seasons in Chicago, something always seemed to get in Cutler's way. He clashed with offensive coordinators or got flattened behind a weak offensive line. He lacked a go-to receiver. He made poor decisions.
The defense struggled, too, especially last year. The Bears tried to address that in the offseason, bringing in defensive end Jared Allen as part of a major overhaul.
Cutler's ability to stay healthy remains an issue, considering he hasn't played a full 16 games since 2009. But he has the system and help he needs, with star receivers in Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery and an elite running back in Matt Forte.
All 11 starters are back from an offense that jumped from 29th to fifth in passing and 28th to No. 8 in total offense last season, the first under Trestman.
While Cutler only appeared in 11 games, he played well. His passer rating was a personal-best 89.2, and his completion percentage (63.1) was just shy of a career high.
That was enough for the Bears to give Cutler a seven-year contract even though he's now 31.
''When you watched Josh (McCown) play last year, can you say he really looked like a 35-year-old quarterback?'' Trestman said. ''I don't think any of us would say that. I didn't coach Steve Young at 29, but he didn't start until he was 29. (Rich) Gannon was getting started at 33. I think each quarterback's on his own journey, their development and where they are as part of the game is determined by the teams they're with, the coaches they're with, the quarterbacks they're playing behind. I think they're all independent of each other, and it's how a quarterback takes care of his body, the kind of condition he's in.''
He said Cutler is in ''tremendous'' condition and doesn't appear to be slowing down. He sees a quarterback who's familiar with the system and able to make quick decisions. Offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer mentions the consistency in Cutler's technique, his footwork and precision with his throws.
He said that Cutler has more time to think when he drops back in part because he's more familiar with the system than he was a year ago.
It's a system that fit him well last season, and fit the Bears well.
Now, can they match what they did a year ago? Better yet, can they top it? And can the Bears achieve their goal?
Kromer has been around good offenses. He was the line coach in New Orleans in 2009 when the Saints led the league in total offense on their way to the championship.
''You ask any Super Bowl champion team - they didn't have injuries, they made plays at times when you didn't feel like the play could be made and it was made and you played through some things,'' Kromer said. ''I don't know any time in the season that it's going to happen. As you go you keep jelling and you keep having success because you're working together well.''
NOTES: S Chris Conte was medically cleared and went through a full practice Thursday after suffering a concussion in the third preseason game against Seattle. Trestman said Conte will play Sunday and that the Bears will decide after Friday's practice if he will start. Conte also missed the start of training camp and first two preseason games while recovering from shoulder surgery.
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