LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Both physically and mentally, quarterback Jay Cutler couldn't feel better about the upcoming Chicago Bears season.
Armed with a new contract and knowledge of an offense he has had the rare luxury of running for a full season, Cutler at minicamp this week feels in the best position he's been since coming to Chicago in 2009.
"You're not guessing, you know where guys are going to be, you know what the calls are, you know why the call came in, you know what you want to get to if it is a problem," Cutler said about entering his second season in Marc Trestman's offense. "We're going in that direction, but we're still trying to figure some stuff out. We had some areas last year we struggled in and we weren't perfect so we have to keep working and keep trying to get better."
Cutler only twice before had the same offensive system from one year to the next, initially in Denver and then in Chicago when he had Mike Martz as offensive coordinator from 2010-11.
Never has he had the type of weapons he has available after helping the Bears become the second-highest scoring team in the league and the No. 8 offense overall.
"We did OK last year, for the first year," he said. "We have the same guys we had last year, which is always good.
"Talent-wise it's hard to top our O-line and some of the guys we have on the outside and (running back) Matt Forte, who is hugely underrated," he said. "Talent-wise, being in the system two years and the way the guys work, all that adds up. Hopefully we can stay healthy and see where this thing goes."
Therein lies the problem, and it starts with Cutler. He hasn't played a full season since his first in Chicago in 2009.
"I was straight until I really got here for a while and it was a hit parade back there," he said, referring to the beating he took behind a porous offensive line from 2009-12. "It takes its toll from time to time.
"I think with the offensive line we've got here, the guys are doing everything possible. Last year was last year. Kind of two freak injuries. I don't really foresee that happening again."
Cutler suffered injuries to his left groin and ankle last year and missed five games. He said Tuesday he began his strength and conditioning program earlier this year so he could, "get my whole left side back to even with my right side," and feels he has.
It's often been speculated his own habit of holding the ball longer led to some of the beatings he took when he was sacked 148 times in four years.
"It's two-fold," he said. "Once you start getting hit a lot you start taking your eyes off the secondary, you lose a lot of trust up front and it gets difficult to play quarterback.
"You look across the league and you see guys that are getting hit a lot; they're probably not going to be doing very well. The guys who stay pretty clean are in offenses year-in and year-out and get a feel for the guys. Those guys are going to be the ones who are in the top of the league every year."
And Cutler has confidence he can stay clear of injury because the system lets him get rid of the football quicker. Another year in the system, and it's going to come out even faster. At least that's the design.
"He's incredibly smart, but very smart football-wise, obviously," Trestman said. "His ability to draw from all the different experiences he's had both in the physical aspects of running these plays and then the mental aspects of having to read them out and find the right guy goes into his growth in the second year. He's working with the same people, which is a big advantage."
Expecting an offensive jump this year like the Bears made last year would be impossible. They went from 29th in passing to No. 5, and 28th in total offense to No. 8. And they did it with backup Josh McCown in five games. The Bears would need perfect health on the offensive line like last year, and they're already playing without right tackle Jordan Mills. He missed the first day of minicamp while recovering from the foot surgery.
They didn't have an injury of significance to their main three receivers -- Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett -- and this year lack some of the depth they had last year when they had Earl Bennett at wide receiver.
"So at No. 3 we've got a bunch of guys," Cutler said of the receiver situation. "I think offensively, once you get past the first-team guys, there's a lot of competition with the O-line, tight end group, receiver, running back."
The same is true at quarterback, with a room full of players fighting to replace McCown.
"There are a lot of positions there that are kind of up for grabs so we'll see how it plays out," Cutler said.