With word coming on Wednesday that Chicago Bears QB Jay Cutler successfully completed a full-speed workout, the decision to start Cutler on Sunday came down to coach Marc Trestman. And one thing is clear: Trestman is a man of his word.
All along Trestman has maintained that once Cutler recovered to the point of receiving medical clearance, he would reprise his role as starting quarterback for the Bears. On Thursday, the Bears announced that Cutler will indeed be the starting quarterback in Week 15 when they face the Cleveland Browns.
"I expect that he'll go out and play effectively and efficiently,” Trestman said, according to Michael Wright of ESPNChicago.com. “I don't have any reservations, and I don't feel there's any risks. Jay's the quarterback, and he's playing on Sunday because he's been released and he's at 100 percent, or certainly close to it."
Cutler has been sidelined since Nov. 10 due to a left high-ankle sprain sustained in the first half of that week’s game. He returned to attempt to finish out the game but ultimately had to be removed in the fourth quarter when the ankle became too problematic. Although the severity was not immediately made known, Cutler was placed in a hard cast shortly after the injury, an indication that the medical staff did not want him moving the joint at all. Ten days later, his ankle was out of the cast and placed in a smaller protective splint, but Cutler remained limited in terms of activity. Within the next two weeks he began treadmill running, and late last week he was finally cleared to return to practice. Cutler went through light drills but was not cleared for game action by Monday night.
This week, he increased his practice activity, going through a full-speed workout Wednesday, something the staff wanted him to do to see how his ankle responded. Trestman said there were no ill effects Thursday morning, which cleared Cutler to test the ankle with a full-practice effort. As noted by Wright, Cutler went through a variety of drills Thursday to test his throwing effectiveness and his pocket mobility, which Trestman wanted to observe before making his decision.
The primary challenges following a high-ankle sprain on the lead leg of a quarterback are being able to step onto the front leg and advance the body weight over a stationary ankle, stressing the joint and the ligaments which support it. Twisting and rotational movements also significantly stress the injured area, making it difficult for quarterbacks to perform handoffs or make cross-body throws if still compromised by a high-ankle sprain. Cutler apparently passed all the necessary tests for Trestman to confidently sign off on his starting Sunday.
It’s worth noting that Cutler was returning from a groin injury the week he injured his ankle. The downtime required to recover from the ankle sprain undoubtedly helped the groin area continue to heal, as well. One thing Cutler has not yet proved is that he can handle four quarters of action at game speed. While there are alternate means of maintaining cardiovascular health, there is no match for the demands of playing in a football game. Virtually all players say it takes time to get up to game speed after an extended absence. That said, Cutler’s playing style is such that it does not demand excessive running as long as he is able to protect himself. He may still be able to play effectively even if he isn't in top cardiovascular shape.
Perhaps the biggest risk of reinjury will come if Cutler gets caught in the pocket with his foot planted and his leg gets forcibly twisted on top of it. Based on Trestman’s comments, there is no worry on the part of the Bears in terms of Cutler facing undue risk (translation: no more risk than anyone else who steps onto a football field for a living). But if something happens to Cutler that would force him out of what will be just his ninth game of the season, Josh McCown has already proved he is more than capable of being the next man up.