Chicago Bears Countdown to Kickoff: 6 Days with Jay Cutler

Chicago Bears, Jay Cutler
Chicago Bears, Jay Cutler / Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
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Today starts the final week before the start of the NFL season, meaning that the league's first full-slate day is just six days away from this Monday. The regular season is just around the corner, and to celebrate, today's installment of Chicago Bears Countdown to Kickoff brings us to the life and career of the best player in franchise history to don the number six, quarterback Jay Cutler.

Chicago Bears trade for Vanderbilt, Broncos star Jay Cutler

A native of Santa Claus, Indiana, Jay Cutler's football career began as a quarterback for his Heritage Hill High School team. There, Cutler became a talented pro-style quarterback and helped his team win the state championship in his senior season, where he threw the game-winning touchdown pass. However, despite his success at the high school level and his prototypical size as a quarterback, Cutler was not a highly-ranked prospect in the college recruiting cycle.

Eventually, Cutler received a call from Vanderbilt University, who had actually confused the quarterback with a different prospect who played tight end. Cutler informed the staff that he was a quarterback, who also played safety in high school, and the school, upon realizing their mistake, offered Cutler a scholarship anyway. He joined the team ahead of the 2001 season, where he sat as a redshirt freshman.

Upon joining the team officially as a sophomore, Cutler became the team's starting quarterback, a position he would hold for nearly four consecutive seasons. In fact, in four years of play, Cutler started 45 consecutive games, the most quarterback in school history to do so. Unfortunately, the team as a whole struggled with Cutler at quarterback and led the team to just an 11-34 cumulative record.

However, despite Vanderbilt's struggles, Cutler became a conference and nationally dominant quarterback by his latter collegiate years. His best season came as a senior, where he finished the 2005 season with over 3,000 yards, 21 passing touchdowns, and just nine interceptions. His total was strong enough to be first in the SEC in passing yards and total yards and second in the conference in passing touchdowns. Following the season, Cutler was named the SEC Offensive Player of the Year.

Chicago Bears, Jay Cutler
Chicago Bears, Jay Cutler / Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Alongside Texas quarterback Vine Young and USC quarterback Matt Leinart, who just squared off for the national championship title, Cutler was one of the top-rated quarterbacks entering the 2006 NFL Draft. There, he was selected by the Denver Broncos with the 11th overall pick.

As a rookie, Cutler mainly played behind veteran Jake Plummer, who was in his ninth season as a pro. However, the first-year player was able to start five games in the latter stages of the season, where he averaged almost exactly 200 yards per game and finished the season with nine touchdowns to just five interceptions.

By his second season, Cutler became the team's full-time starting quarterback. In head coach Mike Shanahan's system, the signal caller was in a good situation to showcase his abilities down the field, especially with the emergence of receiver Brandon Marshall, who was a late-round pick in Cutler's draft class. Together, the young duo quickly became one of the best tandems in the league.

Cutler finished his first season as the full-time starter with nearly 3,500 passing yards, over 1,300 of which came from Marshall, 20 touchdowns, and 14 interceptions en route to helping the team post a respectable 7-9 record. The following year, the team would face a similar fate, ending the season with an 8-8 record, but Cutler was named a Pro Bowler after finishing the campaign with an impressive 4,500 passing yards and 25 touchdowns.

However, Cutler effectively demanded a trade from the Broncos following the season, partly due to the hiring of Josh McDaniels as the team's new head coach. The then-25-year-old Pro Bowler was shopped around the league and the Chicago Bears ended up having the best offer and sent quarterback Kyle Orton alongside two first-round picks to land the former Vanderbilt star.