Stealing the Show

Lake Forest - Lovie Smith was pleased to have veteran Jeff George come aboard Monday, but the Bears coach reminded attendees at his Monday afternoon press conference that Chad Hutchinson is the starting quarterback Sunday against the Vikings.

Hutchinson succeeds Rex Grossman, Jonathan Quinn and Craig Krenzel at the position.

"Yes, (he's) our fourth starting quarterback, but we're very excited about where he is," Smith said. "He's learned the offense. We've gotten a chance to see his arm. We feel like he's ready to take control."

When the Bears signed him two months ago, Hutchinson was surfing and hanging out in his native Southern California, hoping to get back into the NFL after having been cut by the Dallas Cowboys just before the start of training camp. Not only is he back in the league, the 6-foot-5, 237-pound Hutchinson is back in the starting lineup, where he spent nine games with the Cowboys as a rookie in 2002.

"It's awesome," said Hutchinson, who got the news from Smith on Friday, a day after Krenzel suffered a sprained ankle in the second quarter and Quinn's relief effort was a disaster. "This is all I can ask for. Sitting on my couch or surfing two months ago to, now, playing. Two months ago I was like, 'Man, I just want to get back in the game to just get an opportunity,' and my opportunity is here. I'm just so excited because this is what I love to do and it's another opportunity to do it."

Before Monday's practice, when he took almost every snap with the first-team offense, Hutchinson had only been given a handful of reps with the starters while the coaching staff scrambled to get the rookie Krenzel prepared.

Since Grossman's injury at the end of Game 3, the Bears' offense has plummeted from No. 12 in total yards to No. 32, last in the NFL.

"Hopefully I can bring this offense together a little bit and get a little rhythm going out there, get some drives going," Hutchinson said. "If we start getting a few big plays going, it's not going to be long before we're producing like we want to produce.

"I've been in a (similar) situation when I was at Stanford my freshman year. We were struggling on offense, and it took one series to find our rhythm. From then on out, it was rolling. Everybody thinks it's that far off, but it's really not."

Hutchinson played in just one game with the Cowboys in 2003 and threw just two passes. But he started eight games last spring with the Rhine Fire of NFL Europe, completing 126 of 207 passes for 1,356 yards, five touchdowns and four interceptions.

"Chad has a stronger arm than all three guys," Smith said in comparing him to Quinn and Krenzel. "Chad got here later. He didn't get a chance to get it from the ground floor. He had to catch up at a different pace. He's our best option right now, and we like that option of having him at quarterback."

Until George is ready, the Bears really don't have any other option.

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