It was Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Fouts who said Jay Cutler's greatest strength -- his strong arm -- might be his biggest weakness in first-year offensive coordinator Mike Martz's new offense.
''I totally agree with that,'' Cutler said in an exclusive interview with the Sun-Times. ''In the West Coast [offense], you can see it and let it fly. But this system is total trust. You have to trust the receivers. You have to trust the call. You have to trust the spots. If you don't, if you don't let it fly when it's supposed to, it's going to be an interception.
''You take your seven steps, you identify the coverage and let the ball go. The receiver is supposed to be there.''
Find the open man. The words that have been drilled into the quarterback's head since he was old enough to grip laces are suddenly irrelevant.
Now his challenge is to ignore that instinct. Imagine being told your success hinges on forgetting everything you ever learned.
''When you have a real strong arm, like Jay, you're not forced to anticipate and throw the ball early,'' said Fouts, who played in a similar system under Martz's mentor, the late Chargers coach Don Coryell. ''When you have a gun like that, you rely on waiting to see them open up and getting it to them. And in the NFL, that gets you in trouble because the reaction time of defenses is so good. The one thing I had to learn was to trust the system and put the ball in a spot. That takes time and practice. For Jay, that's the adjustment that will be tough to make.''
Fans lining the sun-baked practice fields in Bourbonnais won't be the only ones taking in the drama that promises to define the 2010 Bears this season and likely beyond. The football-watching world will be keenly interested in one of the NFL's best story lines when Martz and Cutler begin public workouts when training camp opens Friday at Olivet Nazarene University.
Martz is The Brain. His high-risk, high-reward offense has been effective everywhere he has gone. Cutler is The Arm. Nobody doubts his physical skills. But for them to have the kind of success that could save the jobs of general manager Jerry Angelo and coach Lovie Smith requires a unique synergy.
''I'm real interested to see how things work out,'' ex-Raiders quarterback and CBS analyst Rich Gannon said. ''You look at Cutler last year, and he led the league in interceptions. If I were coaching him, that's the one thing we would have to straighten out. Then you think about Mike's philosophy. He has been very aggressive as a play-caller and with the mind-set of his quarterback.
''What he needs is a quarterback who is smart with the football and makes great decisions. Everybody is anxious to see how Jay will respond.''
Even Jay is anxious to see how Jay will respond. This is no easy transition for a player who always has been defined by the strength of his arm, which only adds to the intrigue. This curious pairing could lift the franchise to new heights or blow up on the launch pad.
So far, so good. But the real transition has only just begun.
Cutler admits he struggled mightily while trying to throw to a spot instead of a receiver during OTAs and training camp. He plans to talk with Martz pupil Kurt Warner next week to compare notes.
It remains to be seen if Martz-Cutler will be a productive union. Martz's offense requires more five-and seven-step drops, which puts a lot of stress on an offensive line that was the perhaps the Bears' most inconsistent unit last season. A young receiving corps blossomed when players started becoming comfortable in the offense late last season. Now they're learning a new, more demanding system that puts as much responsibility on them as it does the quarterback.
''Mike has a philosophy,'' Cutler said. ''It's different. It's cutting-edge. He presses a lot of boundaries offensively in what you can do and what you can't do. You've got to accept those. If you don't accept it, if you don't buy into it 100 percent, you're going to struggle. Luckily enough, with a young team, with a team that has a lot to prove, it's easy to do that. Guys are there; they're eager. They can see the benefits of what can happen when they do buy into it.''
There are risks associated with Martz's offense, no doubt. There also are ample rewards. If Cutler can learn to throw to spots, the receivers respond and the line holds up, Martz could help the Bears build an offense that might be the signature of the franchise not only in 2010 but well into the future.
''I've bought into everything he has said,'' Cutler said. ''We've been on the same page. I've definitely let some balls go and receivers weren't there. He said you have to keep throwing it there. The receivers have to be there. Now we'll just have to see how it works out on the field.''