The Time is Near

A loss Sunday in Denver may not mathematically eliminate the 3-7 Bears from the playoff picture, but it might as well.

What it would do is provide a perfect opportunity to introduce rookie quarterback Rex Grossman to the NFL, since all of the Bears' final five opponents have defense ranked in the bottom half of the league. Four of the five rank in the bottom one-fourth of the league defensively.

In the meantime Grossman is like a kid the week before Christmas. The anticipation is becoming unbearable.

"My first year in Gainesville I redshirted and I didn't play, and then the next three I played most of the time," Grossman said of his Florida career. "That year, my redshirt year, I was just so hungry to get out there, and it's the same feeling now. I want to get out there so bad. It might be close."

Grossman won't get on the field until the Bears are officially out of playoff contention. As anxious as Grossman is to start playing, he's conflicted when it comes to rooting for the opportunity.

"I'd rather us win then me get a chance to get some experience," Grossman said. "They said if I play, we're out of it. So that's not really fun either. It kind of goes both ways. I'd like to get out there, but I don't want us to be out of it. But, if we are (out of it), I'm going to be real excited about the opportunity."

Until then, Grossman will watch and wait, learning what he can from doing mental reps and observing veteran starter Chris Chandler and backup Kordell Stewart. Chandler has been a starter since the rookie year of his 16-year career, but he doesn't advocate that course of action.

"I don't think he's ready to play, but he is definitely more mature now than he was at the start of the season," the 38-year-old Chandler said of the 23-year-old Grossman. "We have a lot of fun in the locker room and on the field, but I also think he's matured a lot."

It's nothing against Grossman; Chandler doesn't think any rookie quarterback is ready to deal with all the aspects of the job.

"I think it's really a difficult thing to do," said Chandler, who started 13 games as a rookie with the Colts in 1988. "I think the guy who did a good job coming out was Troy (Aikman), but he also went through a 1-15 (season), some really rough years, and then it kind of paid off later. I just think it takes a while to, No. 1, learn an offense. But then also there's a lot of things off the field, moving into a new place and getting your life organized -- all kinds of things that very first year that go into being professional on and off the field. I think Rex is doing a good job."

Aikman threw 9 TD passes and 18 interceptions as a rookie in 1989 for a passer rating of 55.7. He had 11 TDs and 18 interceptions the next season, when the Cowboys were 7-9. Chandler had 8 TD passes and 12 picks for a 67.2 rating in '88. He started 11 games over the next three years before he became a full-time starter again with the Cardinals. Peyton Manning threw 26 TD passes as a rookie in 1998 with the 3-13 Colts, but he was picked off 28 times and had a passer rating of 71.2. Dan Marino threw 20 TDs and 6 interceptions with a rating of 90.6 as a rookie for the 1983 Dolphins, who went 12-4 and lost in Super Bowl XIX. Then there was Cade McNown, who threw 8 TDs and 10 picks as a rookie in 1999 for the 6-10 Bears while compiling a 66.7 passer rating. He never got any better, which is the biggest fear in playing a young quarterback before he's ready. There's also the fear of trivializing the effort of every other player on the team for the sake of giving one player experience.

"There's two schools of thought on that," Chandler said. "There are a lot of guys who are going to go out there and expect to try to win every game and not necessarily do something to help any individual guy for the future. There are a lot of guys on this team, I don't care what the record is, they're going to go out every week and try hard and try to win a football game, and they deserve that opportunity.

"It can help some guys (to play quarterback as a rookie), and it can just absolutely crush some guys. You see Heath Shuler and some of those guys that never ... I don't know what happened to them. But they were can't-miss, and whether it's their confidence that got crushed or whatever, you just never know how a guy's going to react to anything like that."

Still, Grossman is eager to find out.

"It would be nice to get some experience in my first year," he said. "It would probably make me a little more comfortable in my second year. It's just an opportunity for me to get some experience and show what I can do."

For now, though, Grossman continues to learn more about patience than performing.

"It's kind of hard waiting and watching, but that's really what's been best for our team so far," he said. "It's kind of what you go through as a rookie quarterback."

But Christmas is just around the corner.

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