Slash or Burn

<!--Default NodeId For Kordell Stewart is 664678,2003--><A HREF=[PlayerNode:664678]>Kordell Stewart</A> fell out of favor in <!--Default For Pittsburgh is to ignore-->Pittsburgh. Can the elusive QB produced rejuvenate his career in Chicago and lead the team to the playoffs?

He tries to shun the question, but the deal is done and he's in Chicago. The free agent quarterback, who was cut by the Steelers after eight seasons, is getting a chance again to be a starting QB in the NFL.

The Steelers gave up on Stewart after a rough start last season, and benched him in favor of Tommy Maddox. The Bears went hunting for a QB in the offseason -- and after losing a battle for Jake Plummer -- went after their second choice.

Now Stewart, who coming into this year went 46-29 during the regular season as a starting QB in Pittsburgh, has the chance again to revive his career in another city.

The Bears are banking on it, literally. They signed Stewart to a two-year; $5 million contract in March.

"I'm not responsible alone for the improvement. I'm part of the responsibility," Stewart said. "I'm just one piece of the puzzle. There's other facets of the game. Before you put it on one guy, I think you have to be more optimistic about it.

"You have to really keep your focus and not really get caught up in the pressure or the outside forces. Just do what you know how to do best -- just play the game and make plays."

Stewart doesn't want the pressure of turning a franchise around alone, but it comes with the territory of being the quarterback. He might not want to believe it, but turning around his career is just one of the things he'll be shouldering this season.

Bears coach Dick Jauron is history if the team sputters again and doesn't make the playoffs. Others will be right behind in the firing line, too, like offensive coordinator John Shoop, who has been criticized no matter who was playing quarterback.

Stewart, who became famous as "Slash" during his early days in Pittsburgh, used to be able to do it all -- run, pass and play receiver. Now he's asked to do just one thing: Win. History isn't on his side, as the Bears have had about as much success finding a successful quarterback since Jim McMahon departed as Green Bay has of finding somebody to beat out Brett Favre.

The Bears haven't had stability at QB since Jim Harbaugh last started for them in 1993. Since then, the team has had guys like Steve Walsh, Erik Kramer, Dave Krieg, Shane Matthews, Cade McNown, Jim Miller and Chris Chandler taking snaps.

Others on the "Who's Who list" included Steve Stenstrom, Rick Mirer, Moses Moreno and Henry Burris.

"Clearly the quarterback position has been an Achilles' heel for Bears teams for a number of years," president Ted Phillips said in something of an understatement.

Stewart's erratic play is another cause for concern. He did lead the Steelers to two AFC finals, but he also threw three interceptions in each game. He finished as Pittsburgh's all-time career rushing leader among QBs (2,545 yards) and average (5.1), but he's 31 now, not 21.

Still, Stewart believes he still has something left in the tank.

"I can run, I can move around a little bit, so there will be some things in our plays that will take advantage of that," he said. "I think that you'll see the offense open up a bit. When a (QB) runs, it's exciting. It can be pretty bland when you have running backs doing it. When (the fans) see a quarterback doing it, it brings a little flare and excitement."

QBs who can do as much damage with their legs have become a hot commodity in the NFL, and Stewart believes he's got what it takes to scramble for yards or move around in the pocket and make things happen.

"Steve McNair, (Donovan) McNabb, (Michael) Vick, even (Jeff) Garcia is a guy that can get around," Stewart said. "I think myself and even (Daunte) Culpepper (can, too). It's an instinctive thing. You don't go back looking to run unless it's called. Dan Marino is probably the only quarterback I know that maybe never scrambled his entire career.

"At the end of the day, when you get guys to do it so well, it puts defenses back on their heels and allows us to have more control of the game."

The Bears added a quarterback coach -- Greg Olson -- who becomes just the third of his kind in the team's 83-year history. Olson, a 16-year coaching veteran, recently worked with Jeff Garcia and Drew Brees.

Stewart said the only difference between Chicago's offense and Pittsburgh's is the terminology and who's calling the plays. He did play in five different systems during his eight years in Pittsburgh, but the finger-pointing will start early if he doesn't come out of the gate fast -- and get Chicago some victories early.

Trent Dilfer (Ravens), Kerry Collins (Giants) and Brad Johnson (Buccaneers) are examples of quarterbacks who left their original clubs and ended up leading teams to Super Bowls. Stewart might not have to do that to save a lot of heads in the Bears' organization, but the NFL is all about winning now, not building for the future.

"There's pressure on this position, regardless," Stewart said. "Whether it's 15-1 or 0-16. You have pressure from this position to win. If you win, the pressure's going to be on you next time to win again. If you lose, the pressure's on you to win the next time."

Besides a 13-3 campaign in 2001, the Bears haven't won more than six games since 1996. Last season's 4-12 collapse was blamed on injuries and a home schedule played in Champaign. Miller, who was solid in 2001 as the starter, was dumped after the season, proving just how much patience teams have these days.

Like it or not, the quarterback -- win or lose -- faces as much scrutiny as the coach.

"The fans will have something to cheer for come September," wide receiver David Terrell said. "They'll have a lot to cheer for, believe me. You saw when Kordell scrambles, everybody goes crazy.

"It's going to give (the fans) something new to cheer for. It will be something new to look for from the Bears."

Stewart has never missed an NFL game due to injury. His ability to make plays out of pocket is something the Bears have lacked since Jauron was hired in 1999.

"The more tape that we watched, the more we were convinced that Kordell would win for us," Jauron said. "We feel like it's a wonderful match, but now we've all got to get to work to make it a wonderful match.

"We're determined to make this thing work."

Bear Report Top Stories