Cutler has meaty meeting with Jets officials

Updated: April 18, 2006, 12:06 PM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

There was no symbolism involved, insisted Vanderbilt quarterback Jay Cutler, when he ordered an 18-ounce New York strip steak during his lengthy Sunday night dinner with Jets officials at Fleming's Prime Steakhouse in Nashville.

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"It's the steak I always get when I go there," said Cutler, during a Monday conference call with national and New York media. "It's my favorite cut."

Perhaps more significant than Cutler's beef selection was the presence of Jets owner Woody Johnson, a man who typically eschews such football-talk occasions, at the team's first meeting with one of the "Big Three" quarterback prospects in the draft. The Jets' caravan, which also includes general manager Mike Tannenbaum, coach Eric Mangini and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer will huddle with Matt Leinart of Southern California on Tuesday in Los Angeles and then with Texas' Vince Young on Thursday.

The group might even sneak in a trip Wednesday to Oregon to audition Kellen Clemens, a late-riser who could be selected in the second round.

That the usually invisible Johnson is making at least some of the visits could mean that the guy who signs the paychecks wants a chance, too, to examine the merchandise. Forget big steaks. Johnson has a huge stake in his team's top choice, and he seems to be taking a more active role this year than in the past.

It could signal that the Jets, who still hope that Chad Pennington can regain his Pro Bowl form despite two shoulder surgeries, and who traded for Washington Redskins veteran Patrick Ramsey as an insurance policy, might be serious about grabbing a quarterback with the fourth pick in the draft.

It could also mean the team is merely performing its due diligence on the top-rated passers, and will still pick a player at another position, such as Virginia tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson.

None of that mattered on Sunday and Monday for Cutler, who endured five hours of "chalk session" meetings with the Jets' coaches, plotting plays on a dry-erase board and trying to instantly assimilate the offense that Schottenheimer will install. After that, the group went onto the field for a throwing session that lasted another hour or so.

Cutler termed the session, in which he threw to a trio of former Vanderbilt teammates, "nerve-wracking" at times because the Jets contingent forced him into some uncomfortable situations. They asked him to throw a few routes with which he is unfamiliar, had him move around in the pocket and sought to have him throw into small windows. They also spoke at length with Cutler about the perils of playing at Giants Stadium, in the swirling gusts there, and stressed the importance of being able to drive the ball through the wind.

"But I enjoyed it," said Cutler, who completed 710 of 1,242 passes for 8,697 yards, with 59 touchdown passes and 36 interceptions in 45 college games. "It's the kind of stuff that I'm going to have to do anyway [in the NFL]."

Not surprisingly, New York officials didn't engage in a Monday conference call with the media to discuss Cutler's performance. The youthful Jets' front office -- both Tannenbaum and Mangini are rookies in their posts and this is also Schottenheimer's first coordinator gig -- is holding its cards close to the vest. But there is no mistake that Cutler, who figures to join Leinart and Young somewhere among the top 10 selections on April 29, wouldn't mind helping to rebuild a flagging organization.

"I'd love to play for them," said Cutler, who will audition for Detroit scouts later this week. "It would be a great challenge for me. [But] I think their offense really fits me well."

What quarterback, if any, best fits the Schottenheimer-designed offense remains to be seen. The Jets' group, reportedly with Johnson still a part of the traveling party, will continue on in its appointed rounds. The good news for Cutler is that the anxiety that is a part of the run-up to the draft won't continue much longer for him.

"You do reach a point where it starts to get old," Cutler acknowledged. "But it's all part of the process and you've just got to kind of go with the flow."

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.