Reporters' Notebook

Reporters' Notebook: Jay Cutler's return, David Johnson's dream

With the preseason slate upon us and the 2017 regular season fast approaching,'s network of reporters gets you up to speed with the hottest news and notes from across the league, including:

» David Johnson's quest for 1,000/1,000.

» Brandin Cooks' hot start with the Patriots.

» The lack of playmakers threatening to ground the Jets.

But first, Tom Pelissero checks in on how Jay Cutler is fitting in with the Dolphins ...

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DAVIE, Fla. -- Dolphins coach Adam Gase has said many times he disagrees with the negative public perception of Jay Cutler, who reunited with Gase and ended his brief retirement by signing a one-year, $10 million contract with Miami last weekend.

But perception is all that many of Cutler's Dolphins teammates had to go on until a few days ago. Cutler doesn't have a full offseason to build relationships and convince them he's not the aloof, indifferent, cigarette-smoking meme he's often made out to be. So why does Gase believe his new quarterback can get this locker room behind him in short order?

"I know how he is," Gase told me after Cutler's first practice Tuesday. "He knows the situation that he's in. He's done a good job. He's talking to as many guys as he can.

"One of the best things about our players is they really don't care what anybody else thinks. No judgment for what you do [until] you get here. They're not going to listen to what anybody else says."

That's generally Gase's mentality, too -- the same open mind he brought to working with Ryan Tannehill, who had plenty of questions surrounding his game and leadership qualities when Gase arrived here a year ago. Gase threw support behind him and had Tannehill playing some of his best football down the stretch last season, before a partially torn ACLin Tannehill's left knee triggered the chainof events that led to Cutler's arrival.

Cutler, 34, has always possessed loads of talent, starting with his big arm and ability to make any throw. If he plays well and the Dolphins win, everything else figures to take care of itself. But players surely will be paying attention: When tough times come, will Cutler be the guy Dolphins tackle Jermon Bushrod, a teammate of Cutler's for three seasons with the Bears, says is different in the locker room and the huddle from what players might think from watching TV? Or will he be the guy Martellus Bennett -- who also spent three seasons with Cutler in Chicago -- ripped last year for lack of leadership? The guy with whom Brandon Marshall -- who spent three seasons with Cutler in Denver and three in Chicago -- said his relationship deteriorated to the point they barely spoke?

Gase has known Cutler since he was an offensive assistant with the Detroit Lions in 2006 and picked up Cutler for a pre-draft workout. The two stayed in touch and ended up together with the Bears in 2015, where Gase, as the offensive coordinator, helped produce one of Cutler's most efficient seasons (21 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, career-best 92.3 passer rating) -- a notable development, given that questionable decision-making and interceptions have been an issue throughout Cutler's career. So when Gase says he thinks "a lot of things said about him are bulls---," as he did after Cutler announced his retirement in May, he's speaking from experience.

That doesn't mean Gase dismisses all the criticism. One issue both were cognizant of in Chicago: Cutler's on-field demeanor and body language, which Gase felt improved that year.

"Bad things happen," Gase said. "Sometimes, when you're a quarterback and you're putting it on yourself, you get upset. We talked about how sometimes you've got to put that foot forward that shows, Hey, we're going to go back out there, we're going to get in the game. And it's not easy to do all the time. You only get so many possessions. You know you've got to make them count. When something bad happens, it's easy to kind of throw yourself [under the bus], put all that blame on you, and it affects you. I think he did a great job, as far as if something bad happened, he moved on to the next thing, and I thought he carried himself great."

That challenge isn't unique to Cutler, whose reactions are recorded and analyzed more than most. ("Put a camera on every person in the NFL," Gase cracked, "and we'll see how many people have positives in their body language.") But it does contribute to Cutler's persona.

If anyone has questions about Cutler's toughness, former NFC North nemesis Ndamukong Suh answered that Tuesday, saying he had the utmost respect for Cutler as an opponent because he stood in, took hits and didn't whine about it. "From when I've seen him on the football field and playing against him," Suh told me later, "he definitely seems like a passionate guy to me."

Suh also mentioned Cutler helped the Bears reach an NFC title game after the 2010 season, though that's a long time ago now, and it's the only time Cutler has been to the postseason. In Cutler's 139 regular-season NFL starts, his teams have gone 68-71.

Gase is the reason Cutler was the Dolphins' top choice after Tannehill aggravated the knee injury. He knows the offense. Gase feels he's a really good fit. And unlike Cutler, Gase already has credibility in the locker room, having guided the team back from a 1-4 start to make the playoffs at 10-6 in his first season as coach. For now, players' trust in Gase means trust in Cutler, who has to prove himself from there.

"It's all about relationships with the teammates and handling adversity," Gase said.

There isn't much time to build those relationships. The Dolphins are betting Cutler can be the answer to the adversity that has already come, and do so quickly.


ARIZONA CARDINALS: Johnson poised to join the 1,000/1,000 club? What is it about David Johnson that makes the Cardinals feel he can achieve 1,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards in 2017? After all, that's a feat very few running backs have achieved. Two, in fact: Roger Craig in 1985 (1,050 rushing/1,016 receiving) and Marshall Faulk in 1999 (1,381/1,048).

Johnson came close last season with 1,239 rushing yards and 879 receiving yards. But this year, he plans to play at the lightest weight he's ever been during his pro career (223 pounds). So why do the Cards feel he can handle it from a physical standpoint? Well, first of all, Johnson claims to feel not only comfortable at this weight, but actually more energized. And after an offseason that included yoga, he has convinced some on the coaching staff to consider yoga for themselves because of how much more fluid he looks during camp. Still, my understanding is Arizona's confidence in Johnson's sturdiness mainly stems from one specific trait the Pro Bowl back possesses.

"He has that last-second little wiggle that so few have, that allows him to never really get hit clean," a member of the Arizona coaching staff told me.

This allows Johnson to stay more durable throughout a season -- and, the Cardinals hope, his career. The belief is he never really takes as many impactful hits as you would assume. Combine that with his ability to find the sideline, as well as Bruce Arians' play-calling plans with the dynamic RB, and 1,000/1,000 could very much happen.

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DENVER BRONCOS: Roby more than Denver's third-wheel CB.Broncos cornerback Bradley Roby doesn't beat around the bush when asked about personal goals:

"I'm trying to be a Pro Bowl guy, I'm trying to be on that ballot."

The Broncos already have arguably the best cornerback duo in the NFL: Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr., who have become Pro Bowl mainstays. Roby, Denver's third corner who is considered a starter at nickelback, is now in his fourth season after being a first-round draft pick. Roby admits that, when he came into the league, he relied on his raw athletic ability. But he has learned to study and read defenses under the tutelage of two of the best CB minds in the game (Talib and Harris).

"I've gotten better understanding the game, now knowing just the little things," Roby told me.

Talib has noticed a difference in Roby at camp this year.

"He's one of the top guys on the production chart this year so far in camp," Talib said. "T.J. Ward and I were talking about it today -- just his communication, his alertness. He was just a mute last year; he just played his technique and was just out there. This year, he's actually in tune to the defense, and he's communicating with guys. I think that's the first step of making you better, when you can see stuff pre-snap."

Roby has been everywhere during camp. He has multiple interceptions and aims to carry this performance over into the regular season.

"I'm very ambitious in what I want to accomplish," Roby told me. "I already set it out. I want to get six picks and [take] three to the house."

Roby does indeed have a nose for the end zone -- he returned two interceptions for touchdowns last season and notched another score off a fumble recovery the year before.

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GREEN BAY PACKERS: Rodgers' big plans. All the talk about the additions of tight ends Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks hasn't prevented Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers from thinking about new ideas for utilizing familiar faces. Rodgers recently talked about his desire to unleash wide receiver Randall Cobb in more retro ways. The Packers already are contemplating how best to use running back Ty Montgomery -- a former wide receiver -- as a pass catcher out of the backfield, and Rodgers would like to see Cobb in more spots.

"I think it would be nice to get Randall back in some of those situations where we put him four years ago, where we put him in the backfield and then moved him around to create some mismatches," Rodgers said. "We saw last year that when Randall is involved, we're a better offense. With the emergence of Davante Adams -- and we also have Jordy [Nelson] and Geronimo Allison -- we have to put Randall in positions where he can touch the ball, because he's dynamic with the ball in his hands."

» Montgomery settling in.Packers running back Ty Montgomery made the most of his offseason. The former receiver added nine pounds (going from 215 to 224), worked out with other running backs (the Chargers' Melvin Gordon and the Saints' Adrian Peterson) and savored the extra time he had to learn more about playing in the backfield after becoming an emergency starter last season. Montgomery said he learned some valuable lessons about taking care of his body from Gordon and Peterson, but he also isn't overly concerned about the punishment that comes with being a runner instead of a regular wide receiver anymore.

"Obviously, [the punishment] was different, but it wasn't anything my body can't handle," Montgomery said. "It wasn't anything outside of the ordinary. If anything, playing receiver didn't feel right at times. There were times when I didn't get hit or nicked up. I would come out of some games feeling like I didn't do enough. That's not a problem at this position."

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NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: Pats cooking up scary passing game. The Tom Brady-Brandin Cooks connection is terrifying before a preseason game has even been played. On the first day of the Patriots' joint practice with the Jaguars this week, Cooks put on a show, catching one deep pass after another from Brady, sometimes with a defender going step for step with him. One of his touchdown receptions was a one-handed beauty in the back of the end zone, in which Cooks got behind both Jaguars safeties.

Cooks came to the Patriots from the Saints, and the expectation is that he will provide the speed and deep-play threat the Patriots have not consistently had since Randy Moss was in Foxborough. It is a dimension that Brady's arm -- which appeared as strong as ever, days after his 40th birthday -- can exploit, and it will stretch defenses that in the past had to focus on the short and intermediate passes primarily aimed at Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski.

"He's a great energy around us," Edelman said of Cooks. "He works hard, he's disciplined, he's fast and he does a lot of things, makes great catches. But more importantly, he's just a great teammate. It's exciting to have him in our room. It's exciting to have him on our team, because he's going to make us better, so it's been great."

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NEW YORK JETS: Passing game takes another hit. Even before the Jets' No. 1 receiver Quincy Enunwa was lost for the season to a neck injury this week, the Jets' offense was sputtering.

Enunwa was a promising player with 58 receptions for 857 yards in 2016. But he was the third receiver then, and he was propelled to the top spot because of attrition -- both Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker were let go during the Jets' offseason youth movement.

Last week, coach Todd Bowles was annoyed by how long all three of his quarterbacks were holding the ball. But there is so little explosion among the offensive players, it is fair to wonder if the quarterbacks were seeing any receiver separation at all. And that was with Enunwa. Now, Robby Anderson, Charone Peake and Jalin Marshall will probably be the top three receivers if general manager Mike Maccagnan does not find a veteran option, with draft choices ArDarius Stewart and Chad Hansen getting an opportunity.

"We don't know what we have yet because we're young," Bowles said Tuesday. "We've got to get more plays and get some preseason games under our belt to see what we are. We don't know what we have yet."

That isn't reassuring, and it hurts Christian Hackenberg most of all in a season in which the Jets will be trying to determine if he could be their quarterback of the future. One person with knowledge of the team's thinking said last week -- before Enunwa was lost -- that Hackenberg still had a slim chance to win the starting job to open the season, but he would have to vastly outplay Josh McCown. That seems unlikely, with McCown getting the reps with the first-teamers, inexperienced though they may be.

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TENNESSEE TITANS: Henry ready to roll in Year 2.Titans running back Derrick Henry produced a solid rookie season as a backup to DeMarco Murray. Don't be surprised if Henry becomes even more impressive in his second season after gaining 490 yards and scoring five touchdowns in 2016. Henry's numbers "will go up even if he gets the same amount of reps," Titans head coach Mike Mularkey said. "He's in his second year, so he understands the system better, he knows where the holes are going to be, and he's also bigger and faster than he was last year. I'm not giving him specific numbers that he has to reach, because I'm not going to force-feed anybody. But whatever we have to do to win the games, that's what we'll do."

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