Monday, November 27, 2006

Cutler to Start

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Jay Cutler
Jay Cutler flourished in the preseason, but hasn't played since -- until this coming Sunday. PHOTO: ERIC LARS BAKKE
Broncos TVA torn meniscus ended Nick Ferguson's season after 10 games. See what Larry Coyer and others had to say about the injury on this edition of Broncos TV.

11/27: Monday: Jay Cutler
11/27: Monday: Stephen Alexander
11/27: Monday: Mike Shanahan
11/24: DEN-KC Postgame Report
11/23: Postgame: Mike Shanahan
11/23: Postgame: Jake Plummer
11/21: Ferguson Out for Year

new_blog_zone.jpgRead the latest from the blogs of Managing Editor Andrew Mason, Ring of Famer Billy Thompson and the Denver Broncos Cheerleaders.

11/24: From the Locker Room: Cutler's Thoughts
11/24: Returns a Pressure Point
11/23: Gameday Notes by Quarter: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4

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By Andrew Mason

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- "Jay Cutler will be our starting quarterback."

With those words Monday afternoon, Head Coach Mike Shanahan ended a weekend of speculation that spilled over into chat rooms, talk shows, newspapers and NFL game broadcasts, announcing that the first-round pick will take over as Denver's starter under center when the Broncos face the Seattle Seahawks next Sunday night.

"I'm excited, a little nervous," Cutler said. "But I guess you guys all knew about it before I did, so I've have an idea for the last couple days. So I've kind of been preparing."

The decision -- which Shanahan termed "very tough" -- came after the Broncos lost a second straight game under Jake Plummer. However, the 19-10 loss at Kansas City was not the sole factor.

"It's a process. It doesn't just happen overnight," Shanahan said. "It happens on the way Jay's handled himself through (organized team activity) days, the way he's handled himself through (training) camp and you evaluate how people practice on a day-in, day-out basis, week in and week out."

Saying that Cutler gives the Broncos "the best chance to win," Shanahan dismissed the notion that the move was made for the long-term future of the franchise and its prized rookie quarterback.

"I usually work in the present; I don't work in the future," Shanahan said, "and I think (Cutler) gives us the best chance to win now . Obviously you've got to go out there and get it done."

Shanahan said that Cutler has shown maturity and confidence during his practice-time work. 

Cutler, the Broncos' first-round pick this past spring, becomes the first rookie to start at the position for the Broncos since Tommy Maddox filled in for an injured John Elway during the second half of the 1992 season.  He is also the fourth rookie quarterback to start in the NFL this year, joining fellow first-rounders Matt Leinart in Arizona and Vince Young in Tennessee, as well as second-day pick Bruce Gradkowski with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Shanahan said that demoted quarterback Jake Plummer handled the news of the move with "class."

"I think the world of Jake," Shanahan said. "I love the way he's handled it; he's a competitor; he's a winner; he's done a lot of great things for this organization; he's won a lot of football games, but at this time I really believe that this is in the best interest of our football team."

The coach also said that the fact that this coming Sunday's game is in prime time had no impact on the decision.

"Luckily, it's a Sunday night game, which gives us a little bit longer (to prepare)," Cutler said.


Shanahan's experience with the transition to Brian Griese in 1999 played into his thinking over the past few weeks.

That year, Shanahan inserted the then-second-year quarterback into the starting lineup for the first regular-season game, demoting Bubby Brister, who had started four games that preseason and went 4-0 as substitute starter for John Elway the previous season.

"I did tell you I think that I made a big mistake when I named Brian Griese the quarterback instead of Bubby Brister," Shanahan said. "Even though I thought it was in the best interest of the football team, I don't think everybody else thought it was."

The Broncos started 2-6 under Griese's on-field command before Chris Miller went 2-1 as a starter at midseason. Griese returned to start the final five games, during which the Broncos went 2-3 to complete a 6-10 finish. Brister, meanwhile, threw just 20 passes that year -- three of which were intercepted -- and notched a 30.6 rating in his limited action.

Three years later, Shanahan sat Griese for the regular-season finale against the Arizona Cardinals, opting to play Steve Beuerlein, who spelled an injured Griese for two full games and part of a third earlier that season. Beuerlein led the Broncos to a 37-7 win, and Griese was released the following offseason, paving the way for Plummer -- who played for the Cardinals in that Dec. 29, 2002 game at INVESCO Field at Mile High.

The Beuerlein-for-Griese swap was the last non-injury-incurred in-season quarterback change prior to Monday.

"Is (a quarterback change) a 100 percent? I would say definitely not. It never is, especially when a guy has played as hard as Jake has through the years," Shanahan said. "But that's why you get paid what you get paid, to make those tough decisions, and you've got to do what you think is in the best interests of the team. That was one of the reasons why we went with Jay."

If Cutler starts all of the final five games, he will log the most rookie starts for a Broncos quarterback since John Elway in 1983. Elway went 4-6 in those games.

"When you take a look at a situation like (Elway's), take a look at a quarterback that, at least in my opinion, didn't have a really great supporting cast," Shanahan said. "All the pressure was on the quarterback. I think it's almost impossible for a guy to come in his first year without a supporting cast and be successful."

So what of Cutler's supporting cast?

"Hopefully it'll get better in that running game," Shanahan said.


Above all, Shanahan made the decision for the moment, not for where Cutler might be in two years.

"You do the thing that you feel gives you the best chance to win," he said. "It's one of the reasons Jay Cutler is our quarterback.”

It also put the locker room on notice, serving as a reminder that anyone can find themselves on the bench -- including a team captain of recent years.

"Mike and the coaches made this decision because they feel it gives us the best chance to win, but I think that the lesson and wake-up for everyone is we all have to do our jobs better," safety John Lynch said.

"I know that Coach is thinking (that) he wants to provide a spark for the team," added Jason Elam. "We're going to back whoever's in there and I'm certainly still a big Jake fan, but I'm going to be a Jay Cutler fan here.

"We just rally around our teammates. That's what we have to do."

Whether it's a rookie or a 10-year veteran under center.