Opening act

Rex Grossman isn't an actor, but he'll be doing some major auditioning Sunday at Soldier Field.

Call it his big opportunity to seize the leading role, because that's exactly what he'll be doing in front of 61,000-plus fans, as well as players, coaches and TV viewers.

Dick Jauron isn't the only one fighting for a job next season. Rex Grossman is battling for the starting quarterback spot with the Bears and hopes he can start with a bang with his first career start against the Minnesota Vikings.

"I'm excited. I'm looking forward to the opportunity. It's going to be fun to be out there," Grossman said Wednesday. "I haven't played in a while in a real game. I'm sure it's going to take a little while to get comfortable, but I'm excited for the opportunity."

Grossman hasn't started a game since last January when he threw for 323 yards and two touchdowns in Florida's 38-30 loss to Michigan in the Outback Bowl.

Now the Bears' first-round pick will get his chance to call the shots under center in the NFL. Jauron told Grossman Tuesday night he'd get the start, and if everything works out, he'll start the team's remaining three games.

"I've been working the Bears offense since late July, so I've got a real good idea of what's going on there," Grossman said. "I've observed Chris (Chandler) and Kordell (Stewart); they've been great to me.

"I've concentrated a lot more on details and knowing every little possible thing that could go on in our offense."

Grossman, who played at Bloomington (Ind.) South High School, led the school to the Class 5A state title as a senior in 1998. He passed for 3,080 yards and 34 touchdowns that season, and finished his career with 7,518 passing yards and 97 TDs. Grossman went on to Florida, where he was second in the Heisman voting as a sophomore and left the school a year early to go into the draft. He was a three-year starter for the Gators, starting 31 of 35 games. He completed 677 of 1,110 passes (61 percent) for 9,164 yards, 77 TDs and 36 interceptions during his career.

"You don't base guys on potential, you base them on performance. So we're going to find out (Sunday) obviously," said Bears quarterbacks coach Greg Olson. "But I do believe that he is ready right now, as ready as he can be as a rookie who has not had a whole lot of reps during the season.

"But he's always been cool under pressure and that was one of the things we liked about him when we drafted him. He's a guy that has played in big games, he's a gambler, he's got a short-term memory, he doesn't get bothered by things, and he's always managing to come back when bad things have happened to him. So we like a lot of things about Rex Grossman."

Grossman, 23, has watched from the sideline all season as Stewart, a free-agent pickup, and the 38-year-old Chandler, played sporadic at best during a 5-8 campaign thus far.

The 6-foot-1, 222-pounder, only saw time during the preseason when he completed 28 of 56 passes for 287 yards and a touchdown with two picks.

"You definitely cannot prepare him for the speed of the game, the way it's going to unfold (Sunday), or certainly the emotional level that he will be at when that game starts," Jauron said. "We won't be able to prepare him for that, he's going to have to handle that."

Growing up in Indiana should prepare Grossman for playing in the elements he'll see in Chicago.

"I've been practicing quite a bit out here and I spent the first 18 years of my life in Indiana, which isn't too far away," Grossman said. "I can play in the cold. I just spent four years in Florida. That's a lovely vacation from the cold, but I can play in the cold."

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