CHICAGO -- The media presence at Halas Hall spiked significantly Thursday, with outside curiosity swirling like a vicious December wind. The quarterback debate around Chicago had reached breathless levels with the eye-catching productivity of Josh McCown seemingly threatening Jay Cutler's five-season reign as the Bears starter.
It was a tantalizing storyline for hyperventilating Bears fans.
But here's what really you need to know after Thursday's proceedings in Lake Forest: Everything is back to normal.
Cleared by doctors on Wednesday, Cutler was a full participant in Thursday's practice, fared well and is now green lit to start against the Browns on Sunday in Cleveland.
"It is good to be back," he said after practice.
Surprised Cutler is back at the controls? Especially given how well McCown has played in his five starts and two relief appearances? Then you haven't been listening to Bears coach Marc Trestman, who has been nothing short of direct and consistent in detailing his plans for Cutler's return ever since the quarterback suffered a high ankle sprain in a loss to the Lions four-and-a-half weeks ago.
"This decision was made a long time ago," Trestman said. "And that was that when Jay was ready to play, he would play. That's how we planned to do it."
Trestman never afforded himself any wiggle room. And he doesn't want any either, swatting away the notion that riding forward with a potentially rusty Cutler could put his team at risk of fumbling away its playoff chances.
"I have no concerns," Trestman said. "I expect that he'll go out and play effectively and efficiently. I'm not going in there with any reservation that he'll do anything else."
Naturally, outsiders were also inquisitive on whether McCown felt slighted being bumped back into a reserve role, even after after torching the Cowboys for 348 passing yards and 45 points on Monday night, subsequently earning NFC offensive player of the week honors. Genuinely, McCown insisted he's cool with the plan and has been the whole time.
So what has Cutler thought of the debate that's intensified locally and mushroomed nationally regarding who the more worthy Bears starter might be right now?
"I can't get involved in that," Cutler said. "There's not a debate in this building. So that's kind of where my concern lies."
But did Cutler at least have to ask McCown to return the keys to the car?
"I gave him a spare set," Cutler joked.
Yep. No matter how much discussion about the Bears quarterback circulates, the harmony at Halas Hall remains.
No controversy. Not an ounce of drama. Nothing.
"I'm so glad that we're in the situation that we are in," offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said. "Because that means we have two good quarterbacks. And that's much better than having everybody begging for Jay to come back because our back-up quarterback didn't play well."
Cutler hopes to pick up right where McCown left off, eager to be back and certain the offense has shown impressive development since he last played. That offensive evolution, he believes, should only aid his return.
"I think Trest for the last month has really got a bead and got a feel for what he likes to call, what we're running well, what we feel comfortable with, what the offensive line likes in the running game. Krom's done a good job of mixing that stuff up. So we're moving along,"
For Cutler, keeping up with that progress with so little practice time or game action, however, has been a challenge.
"It's hard," he said. "Mentally, you've got to stay in it. It's been hard. But working with Josh and just making sure he is on it each and every week has also been preparing me."
As well as McCown has played, buoying the Bears' playoff hopes since early November, Cutler's return has been greeted with seemingly unbridled excitement. Earlier this week, receiver Brandon Marshall praised McCown's leadership, called his work ethic "unmatched" and stamped his relief efforts as "amazing." But Marshall also firmly believes that the Bears chances of playing into January are heightened with Cutler firing the bullets.
"Jay Cutler's our quarterback," Marshall said. "There's no one like him. Before the injury, he was playing at a high level. His best football ever. You could put him in any room in the NFL and he's the smartest guy in the room. And his arm is unmatched. He's our guy."
(c)2013 Chicago Tribune
Visit the Chicago Tribune at www.chicagotribune.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services