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Bears Tue Aug 19 2008

Rex No. 2... But For How Long?

He'll be back. Trust me.

On the surface, it appears that Kyle Orton has been named the starting quarterback of the Chicago Bears over the anticipated incumbent Rex Grossman, ending the lamest quarterback derby in the history of the NFL.

In the end, it was Orton's ability to not screw up as much that earned him the job over Grossman, according to Lovie Smith. Oh, they called it things like "ball management" and "low turnover ratio", but we know what that means. Orton sucked less.

Neither one lit up the night in their two preseason games against Kansas City and Seattle. Against the Chiefs, neither Grossman nor Orton could sustain a drive longer than 37 yards (and yes, the Swiss cheese offensive line was partly to blame for that). And against Seattle, Orton completed 5 of 9 passes for 43 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. Grossman completed 9 of 15 passes for 74 yards with one important interception. But somehow Orton emerged, neckbeard intact, to become the starting quarterback for one of the most storied franchises in professional football history.

But don't worry. Rex will be back. Trust me.

This is a probably a do-or-die season for everybody involved in this (ahem) quarterback competition. For Grossman, who, despite being riddled with injuries for much of his Bears career, was continuously handed the controls. For Orton, who probably wouldn't get this chance anywhere else in the NFL. For Smith, who probably put too much faith in Grossman for too long. For General Manager Jerry Angelo, who did nothing to fix the situation when he's had ample chances.

Which brings them all to this last-ditch plan of installing Orton not as a professional quarterback entrusted with leading the team into battle, but a stopgap, a guy who's job is to not do anything stupid. Well, really stupid.

But Rex will be back. Believe me. If not by the second half of the first game, then soon after. See, this was a QB competition designed to A) appease the fans (of whom there admittedly are many) who want to see some kind, ANY kind of change in the Bears' dismal offense and B) take the pressure off Grossman to be THE MAN.

It's a head game devised by Angelo or Smith or both to put Rex in the less-demanding second string role, the one where you get to ride to the rescue after the man in the spotlight has effed things up. This is Plan C or Plan D (I forget which one they're on) where the expectations are strategically lowered and ANY accomplishment by Rex (a first down, a completion here or there) are welcome sights.

Because it's been clear in his five years here that pressure is not Rex Grossman's friend. In fact, some of his best performances have come when he gets the call from the bench late in a game, when the outcome seemed like a foregone conclusion in favor of the other team. In 2007, he came off the bench and engineered come-from-behind victory over Oakland, highlighted by game-winning 59-yard TD pass to Bernard Berrian.

Or take 2005 when, after recovering from a broken ankle, he made his first appearance in 27 games and lead the Bears to two third quarter TDs against Atlanta and passed for 93 yards. Not too long after that he started his first game of the season against Green Bay and threw for 166 yards and a touchdown. And in his rookie season, he started the last three games and had seven plays of 20 yards or more, posting a 2-1 record in his what-the-heck starts.

Orton? Supposedly his performance in the 2005 season, in which he "led" the Bears to a 10-5 record while throwing for a whopping nine TDs in 15 games, played a big part in the decision to make him the starter, which probably deserves the title of "Most Delayed Reaction."

But Rex will be back. As a "relief pitcher", as a sixth man, whatever you want to call it. Let Orton be the bookmark, the guy whose job it is to keep the miscues to a minimum. Rex is the Bears' knockout blow, the guy they will bring in to complete the big play, to throw the ball downfield when the slow-and-steady approach hasn't put then ahead.

So don't worry. Rex will be back. For better or worse.

 
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