This time, there is no debate about who will lead the Denver Broncos offense.
A year ago, fresh out of Vanderbilt, rookie quarterback Jay Cutler played second-fiddle to incumbent starter Jake Plummer. Plummer is gone now, and when NFL training camps open around the nation later this month, the Cutler Era will officially begin in Denver.
“Yeah, I think so,” Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said. “I think anytime you start with a quarterback like Jay — with the type of ability he has, the type of leadership he has — I think you could say that. It’s not very often you get a quarterback at that age, with that type of ability and that type of leadership skills.”
Cutler, the 2005 Southeastern Conference Offensive Player of the Year, bided his time as a rookie last season and eventually wrested the starting job away from Plummer 11 games into the season.
Cutler finished the year by completing 59.1 percent of his passes with 1,004 passing yards and nine touchdowns, offering a glimpse into the potential that made him the No. 11 overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft.
Shanahan believes the best is yet to come for Cutler.
“He’s been working out here, and he’s done a great job with the receivers and our players in general,” Shanahan said. “And hopefully he can keep on leading. He can’t do it by himself, though. And that’s why we’ve got, I’m hoping, a pretty good supporting cast.”
That cast includes former Tennessee Titans running back Travis Henry, who signed with Denver as a free agent, former New England Patriots tight end Daniel Graham and former Indianapolis Colts receiver Brandon Stokley.
Cutler’s teammates have confidence in him.
“We didn’t get to the playoffs (last season), but Jay showed us a lot,” safety John Lynch said. “He’s a very poised young man. There are some expectations there, and he wowed people with his arm strength. He’s got it all. Now it's just our job as a team to come together around him.”
Cutler devoted much of the offseason to watching film with Shanahan and Broncos assistant coach Mike Heimerdinger. They often watched tape of NFL star quarterbacks Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Broncos Hall of Famer John Elway.
“The clock in your head, that’s what they’ve been preaching here the last couple of weeks with Mike (Shanahan) and Dinger,” Cutler said in reference to getting rid of the ball quickly. “They’ve been around some great quarterbacks and great schemes. They’ve helped me out tremendously in what I need to attack and look for.
“We’ve watched Elway, Peyton, Drew Brees, Tom Brady – how they work in the pocket and their feet. It’s been a real learning tool.”
Cutler’s offseason has included things other than football, too.
Since the 2006 season ended, Broncos players Darrent Williams and Damien Nash died in separate incidents. At Vanderbilt, Cutler lost teammate Kwane Doster, who was shot and killed in December 2004.
Cutler, 24, has established The Jay Cutler Foundation, partnering with the Denver United Way to help inner-city schools provide educational alternatives in an effort to stop urban violence at a younger level.
“I’ve always been interested in helping kids,” Cutler said. “I lost a teammate at Vandy, Kwane Doster, who was shot and killed outside a club, like D-Will. After losing two young guys like that, it makes you want to do something good for the community.”