On film, one of Caleb Hanie's best traits is his ability to keep plays alive with his feet. For the Chicago Bears, this is an aspect of his game of which the team must take advantage. It's not that Hanie is a burner in the Michael Vick mold – he ran a 4.85 40-yard dash coming out of college – but he's athletic enough to move out of the pocket and make throws on the run. And when he tucks it down, he can be a very effective runner.
"Definitely, I can move around a little bit, and be mobile when I have to," Hanie said.
One criticism of coordinator Mike Martz has been his reluctance to move Jay Cutler out of the pocket, preferring instead to use him as a pure pocket passer. Yet Cutler has shown great accuracy and decision making on the run. It's believed that Hanie can be just as effective on bootlegs and rollouts.
For Cutler, moving toward the sidelines was a way of giving him clear passing lanes away from the rush. That was important for Cutler behind an offensive line that can struggle at times in pass protection. So it will doubly imperative that the same is done with Hanie. The last thing Chicago needs is for its inexperienced signal caller to get shell shocked due to the opposing rush. Moving him away from the pocket gets him out of harm's way and can creates easy completions.
"I've done a lot of bootlegs and stuff like that my whole life, really," said Hanie. "So it feels really natural to me."
QB Caleb Hanie
Well-designed rollouts will provide Hanie with easy passes to receivers and backs in the flats, as well as those dragging from the backside. If he can show consistent accuracy on the run, those plays should become staples of the offense.
"Jay does some special things with the ball," said Hanie. "Not to say that I'd make the same plays that he does but there might be some plays that I make that are different than the style that he plays."
Most feel that Martz will scale back the complexity of the offense going forward, so as not to overload a quarterback who has thrown just 14 regular-season passes and never practices with the starters.
"Usually, I don't have any reps with the first team when Jay's healthy. He's taken all the reps."
Yet Hanie spoke as if that will not be the case; that the Bears will not be drastically changing the offensive game plan with him under center.
"I'm going to go try to make plays. I'm not going to play scared or I'm not going to play ultra, ultra conservative," Hanie said. "I'm not going to play dumb as well, on the flipside. Like I said earlier, it's a fine line between being conservative and making the plays that need to be made within the offense. And I'm going to try to find that."
Martz has been running the same offense for decades now, which at its core is a downfield passing attack. He's shown stubbornness in the past, forcing to players to fit his system instead of adjusting his scheme to fit their strengths. While it's unlikely he'll ask Hanie to do a lot of the same things Cutler did, it's doubtful he'll be able to completely disregard his infatuation with slinging the ball 20-30 yards up the turf on passing downs.
"He can run our offense, yeah," Martz said. "The only thing with Caleb that you have to watch with a guy who hasn't played much is you just have to be careful about how many things you want to do each week. We have a few things in, but we'll be very careful of that. But he's fully aware and can execute the things we've been doing."
Hanie has the arm strength to make all the NFL-level throws, so he doesn't limit the offense from a physical standpoint. He just needs to be more consistent than he's been in the past. If Martz can develop any confidence in him early on in this process, the kid gloves are going to come off quickly.
Yet there is danger in asking him to do too much. While Hanie has all the physical attributes you want in a starting quarterback, he tends to break down mentally at times. Throughout camp this year, he would fire three or four pinpoint passes in a row, then chuck one into triple coverage. And when things got tough, particularly in the face of the blitz, Hanie tends to lock on to his first option and deliver the pass no matter the coverage.
Case in point was last year's NFC Championship game. Hanie led two fourth-quarter drives of 60 yards or more that ended in touchdowns. On both those series he demonstrated his potential as a bona fide starter in this league. Yet his other two drives in that final period both ended in bad interceptions. Still, he showed a lot of heart and leadership in that game, two traits that have endeared him to his teammates.
"He's a competitor, and we saw how competitive he is in that," said Roberto Garza. "He brings a lot of energy to the huddle. We're excited to go out there and try and keep up with him."
The key will be to get him going early and raise his level of confidence. Easy completions will be crucial. That means a lot of three-step drops, as well as finding and hitting the hot read when opposing defenses blitz.
"The biggest issue with him is being decisive and getting the ball out quick. He's done that. He's worked hard at that," Martz said. "In today's practice, the ball was coming out quickly. So the things we were real concerned about he's been able to resolve here. Yeah, he's ready, and I am very excited and anxious to see him play. I think it'll be fun."
It's anyone's guess as to how Hanie will perform as the starter for the remainder of the season. If he can keep the turnovers and mental mistakes to a minimum, he could be just fine. The Bears only need three wins in the next six weeks to have a realistic shot at earning a spot in the playoffs, at which time Cutler is expected to return. It will be up to Hanie to make that happen.
"I got a lot of reps in practice a couple of weeks ago with the bye week," Hanie said. "I felt like I did a great job of getting the ball out quick and making good decisions, and Mike felt the same way. So I feel real confident."
Follow me on Twitter: @BearReport
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.