BOURBONNAIS, Ill. - Like a kid eyeing his presents, Jay Cutler could hardly contain his excitement.
The Chicago Bears made some big changes, and for a guy who grew up in Santa Claus, Ind., the off-season was like one big Christmas celebration. Now, expectations are soaring, and the spotlight is shining brighter than ever on the man behind centre.
Cutler is ready to rip off the wrapping paper.
"This is the most comfortable I think I've been going into a camp with the offence and what we're doing scheme-wise and the talent around me," Cutler said this week.
There's a different vibe around the Bears heading into their first training camp practice on Thursday, after a disappointing 8-8 finish last season. They're eyeing a big run in the NFC and a trip to the Super Bowl thanks to the moves they made in the off-season.
New general manager Phil Emery wasted little time putting his stamp on the roster, filling a huge hole by acquiring Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall from Miami.
He also brought in a solid running back to go with Matt Forte in Michael Bush and added a legitimate No. 2 quarterback, Jason Campbell.
"He's very focused," Emery said. "As far as quarterbacks who I've had a chance to watch, that includes Michael Vick, which before his situation happened, he had one of the finest OTAs and spring balls that I've ever seen. I would put Jay there and above. Some the throws he made in OTAs and in our minicamps were some of the finest throws I've seen. So obviously, he's got to do that under pressure, he's got to do that every Sunday, but he has proven that he's more than capable of, and he has done it."
In the past, Cutler's defenders could point to the lack of a true No. 1 receiver, the struggles on the offensive line and the revolving door at offensive co-ordinator.
Receiver is no longer an issue now that Marshall, his old friend from Denver, is here. They put up big numbers when they were with the Broncos, and they've been attached at the hip since they arrived at training camp. It seems that way, at least.
"It's always been that way. It's not always fun, not always good," Marshall said with a smile before Thursday's practice.
They do butt heads at times, but clearly, they have each other's back. They just happen to be sort of an odd couple, Marshall acknowledged, although it wasn't clear which one's Felix and which one's Oscar.
"He's a great leader, and I'm looking forward to working with him," Marshall said. "You can put a good quarterback and a good receiver together, but it's not always going to mesh. Sometimes, you don't see the field the same way or see things off the field the same way. Jay and I, I don't know why, but we see things the same way. I'm excited to be under his leadership."
Cutler is glad to have the 6-4 Marshall, along with another big target in 6-3 rookie Alshon Jeffery.
The offensive line remains a huge question mark and the revolving door at offensive co-ordinator took another turn, when the Bears promoted line coach Mike Tice to replace Mike Martz. That means Cutler will be working with his third offensive co-ordinator since the trade from Denver before the 2009 season.
Even so, he welcomes the switch.
No quarterback took a bigger beating the past two years under Martz than Cutler, who was sacked a league-leading 75 times during that span. He was often on his own island with no line of defence, thanks to those seven-step drops and a line that simply was not suited for that style.
He wasn't allowed to call audibles, either. Now, he can.
Tice figures to run an offence that caters more to Cutler's strengths, cutting down on the deep drops while allowing him to move around more in the pocket.
It helps, too, that one of Cutler's mentors in Denver, Jeremy Bates, is now the quarterbacks coach.
"Jeremy has come in and installed some of the stuff I was comfortable with in Denver," Cutler said. "Mike Tice has a good feel for what I like to do, how to put guys in position to be successful."
The question is: How successful can Cutler be?
The past two seasons ended with him sidelined, a knee injury knocking him out of the NFC title game two years ago and a broken right thumb cutting short last year.
Also, Cutler's two lowest quarterback ratings came in his first three seasons in Chicago. He also completed a career-low 58 per cent of his passes last year.
But with the moves the Bears made, Cutler could be poised for a big season.
"We still have some work to do," Cutler said. "We've added some pieces. We got Matt (Forte) back on board, so that's going to help. I think he's really going to like the offence. Brandon Marshall is a new addition. I think the offensive line is going to be excited to put the pads on and get some work done."