A weekly look at a player whose performance must improve in 2010.
In the first of a weekly series, I am going to examine a player who is entering a critical stage of his career or is the focal point of his team. To open the series, I couldn't come up with anyone better than Jay Cutler.
The Bears have made free-agency acquisitions at an alarming -- and incredibly expensive -- rate, but there is no doubt as to whom the future of Lovie Smith, and probably the entire front office, is tied: Cutler.
In fact, Chicago brought in offensive coordinator Mike Martz to get the most out of Cutler. The franchise is on his shoulders. This is exactly what the Bears expected when they traded so much to acquire this rocket-armed signal-caller from Denver. But clearly, they expected much better results.
In a nutshell, 2009 was a huge failure for Cutler, and the acquisition as a whole. He simply threw the ball to the wrong team far too often, and his red zone interceptions were especially unforgivable. But the Bears and his supporting cast deserve an awful lot of blame here as well.
His offensive line was among the worst in the league, both as run-blockers and in protection. The Bears featured only one running back of consequence (Matt Forte), and he battled injury and exhibited a massive drop-off from his rookie campaign, which -- likewise -- was not entirely his fault. Succeeding on offense is very tough to do with such a poor line.
So what has changed other than Martz, who is sure to shake things up a great deal from a philosophical and schematic standpoint? As of now, the Bears have signed Chester Taylor to alleviate the problems mentioned above for Forte. That is an excellent move, and Taylor's pass-catching prowess fits Martz's system very well.
Also, the Bears signed Brandon Manumaleuna, a king-sized tight end who is known for his blocking prowess. Adding this tight end could easily go unnoticed, but with their inability to upgrade at offensive tackle thus far, Manumaleuna surely will be an asset by helping out as a blocker on the edge, giving Chicago something resembling six offensive linemen on the field.
But what about Cutler? A full offseason in the system and better familiarity with his weapons, surroundings and teammates as a whole should be beneficial. On paper, with the addition of Julius Peppers and Brian Urlacher returning to health, Chicago's defense is primed to improve.
That should help the offense as well. Although the line is still a huge problem, the running game almost has to be improved. And the Bears found a true diamond in the rough in Devin Aromashodu, who was fantastic to finish the season and very well could be the wide receiver with size Cutler desperately needed to begin the year.
Those things are encouraging, but I have serious concerns about how well Cutler's skill set and mental makeup fit in with Martz, who has not been known as a guy with very flexible views about how to run his offense. He has stressed timing, accuracy and throwing to a spot.
He doesn't need rocket-armed passers; he needs precision. Frankly, that isn't Cutler's game. He's more of a see-it-and-chuck-it guy instead of a player who throws to a spot where his receiver will end up. His improvisational talents are both his biggest strength and biggest weakness.
Can Martz reel in Cutler some? Sure, and that is very much needed. But Cutler also cannot become robotic. I get the impression that conforming to a strict set of rules is not in this young man's makeup.
One thing is for sure: Things will be very different in Chicago this season, and that goes for Cutler as much as -- or more so -- than anyone in the organization. When it happened, I was very much in favor of the Cutler trade from the Bears' perspective. In fact, I still am. But in the end, it is all on Cutler now, and much more is required from him -- no matter what the extenuating circumstances might be.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.