LAKE FOREST, Illinois — While quarterback Jay Cutler insists he hasn't changed much since last year, he's glad he can also say the same for the Chicago Bears offense.
Cutler doubts he has actually gotten bigger or stronger with a physical regimen he began earlier than in past years, but when the Bears opened minicamp Tuesday there was no denying the effect of playing in the same offensive system under coach Marc Trestman in successive seasons.
"We're going into my ninth year," Cutler said. "I think this is only the second or third time I've been in an offense multiple years.
"Still a little bit new to us, you know, we did some good thing last year. We're still in the learning process but guys are much more familiar with what the concepts are and the formations and everything. So that's going to be a help: less thinking and able to go fast."
The Bears improved from 29th ranked to No. 5 in passing and from 28th to No. 8 in total offense in their first year playing in Trestman's attack. Cutler and former backup Josh McCown set a franchise record with a combined 96.9 passer rating. Now the assumption is they're further along in the offense and it can get even more effective, although McCown is now with Tampa Bay and the Bears are auditioning for backups.
"The beauty of continuity in football is learning the system and understanding where the problem lies on each play and each down and distance, and having the answer for that," Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said. "The more you know about the play, the more you know about the offense, the more problem-solving you can do as opposed to just running the play."
"He's been in so many different systems, but just to be able to go back to back in the same environment, the same coaching environment, the same players around him, the way we do things and the way we say things, I think can allow him to enjoy more flexibility at the line of scrimmage and understand what we're trying to get to," Trestman said about Cutler. "Each of these plays we have, there's a lot of different answers against a lot of different types of (defensive) looks and coverages, and I think he's at a place now, because he's had so much experience on these plays, he can utilize the entire play to find the right answers."
Trestman was the one who has said he thought Cutler looked bigger and faster, but Tuesday backed off this comment a bit. Cutler himself called it an exaggeration.
Cutler, who signed a seven-year, $126 million contact at the end of last season, said he began working out earlier this year because he wanted to get stronger on his left side after suffering a groin strain on his left side and a left ankle sprain.
"I got back into it a little bit earlier this year because with the dual injuries I just wanted to get my whole left side back to even with my right side," he said. "So I feel good. I didn't do anything out of the ordinary to get ready for this year.
"It takes some time. I wasn't really feeling good until into March, really, right before we started."
Cutler missed five games last year, and played an entire Bears season only in 2009, his first year with the club. So his physical condition is a concern.
"I was straight until I really got here for a while and it was a hit parade back there," Cutler said, referring to the 148 sacks he absorbed his first four years as a Bear. "It takes its toll from time to time."
Cutler was sacked just 19 times last year, but still was injured.
"I think with the offensive line we've got here, the guys are doing everything possible," Cutler said. "Last year was last year. Kind of two freak injuries. I don't really foresee that happening again."
Cutler has been working at leadership skills, as well. He recently went with Trestman to New York to meet with author and NFL adviser Dov Seidman on how to foster a more ethical culture in the locker room.
It's all a part of and approach toward creating a family atmosphere with the team that Trestman has emphasized.
"I don't think it can hurt," Cutler said. "I mean I think you can ask anybody. If they go to work and they like where they're working, they like who they're working with, the atmosphere that they're in promotes good ideas and promotes any idea no matter if it's good or bad.
"I think anybody's going to enjoy that atmosphere."
NOTES: Right tackle Jordan Mills missed the first day of minicamp while resting a foot injury he has rehabbed since surgery at the end of last season. Eben Britton and Michael Ola took his place with the first team. ... Safety Craig Steltz is back working out missing earlier off-season workouts following an off-season leg surgery. ... Linebacker Khaseem Greene, rookie defensive tackle Will Sutton and safety Chris Conte missed practice with excused absences for what Trestman called "family reasons."