One Track Mind

Lake Forest - The Bears still harbor playoff hopes, slim though they may be, and that's what quarterback Chad Hutchinson is focused on as he prepares to face the Houston Texans on Sunday at Soldier Field.

Hutchinson is one of five quarterbacks on the Bears' payroll, so it's only natural to wonder who and how many of them will be at training camp next summer.

The former St. Louis Cardinals pitcher and soon-to-be brother-in-law of Cubs second baseman Todd Walker would appear to be a lock for next season based on his first two starts, but he's trying to concentrate on the present.

"I'm not even worried about that right now," said Hutchinson, who signed a two-year contract on Sept. 28, the day starting quarterback Rex Grossman went on the disabled list. "I'm excited to be here. I'm taking it week-to-week, day-to-day. Next year ... I mean, I didn't expect what happened in Dallas, and it happened, so it's out of my hands."

The Cowboys released Hutchinson just before training camp began last summer, after he had started nine games for them in 2002.

The 27-year-old already has experienced the highs and lows of playing quarterback in Chicago. His spectacular debut included three TD passes and led the Bears to a 24-14 victory over the Vikings. But Sunday's 22-3 loss to the Jaguars in Jacksonville was a jolt of reality.

"That's what's exciting about it," Hutchinson said. "It can change right back the other way this next week." v Although Hutchinson suffered his first interception and failed to get into the end zone Sunday, he played much better than the score would indicate. Dropped passes and a lack of protection contributed to the poor offensive showing.

"I thought that Chad played well," coach Lovie Smith said. "He didn't play as well as he did the week before, but we didn't lose the game based on the play of our quarterback."

Smith couldn't honestly say that after some losses earlier in the season when veteran Jonathan Quinn and rookie Craig Krenzel struggled to get the offensive engine to turn over -- partly because of their own turnovers and propensity for being sacked. Krenzel is on injured reserve with a sprained ankle, and Quinn has been relegated to the No. 3 spot behind Jeff George, whom the Bears are eager to observe in a game situation before the end of the season.

Even though Hutchinson couldn't duplicate his three-TD-pass premiere, he received a vote of confidence from three-time Pro Bowl center Olin Kreutz, one of the Bears' team leaders, who called him "part of the solution."

"It's awesome," Hutchinson said. "It's been a pleasure working with him. You guys see what he does on the field, but I see what he does in the huddle with the other guys, and it's awesome to have a center who's that physically gifted and smart and also as much of a team player as he is. That definitely means a lot."

Like Quinn and Krenzel, Hutchinson has experienced the onslaught of pass rushers pouring through the Bears' sieve-like offensive line. He's been sacked five times in each of his starts, but Hutchinson has also shown an ability to escape. In his first start, he scrambled three times and picked up 14 yards. Last week he bolted for 18 yards when protection broke down, but that was negated when right tackle Aaron Gibson was flagged for an illegal-hands-to-the-face penalty. If the situation calls for it, the 6-foot-5, 237-pound Hutchinson doesn't mind taking off with the ball.

"It's just playing the game and being in some situations where I've been forced to do some of that," he said of his escape-ability. "I feel good because I'm starting to get a better feel in the pocket for when I need to do that. As far as the positives out of (Sunday), I felt like if there weren't some penalties, that there were some good plays that were made from scrambling around."

But on one occasion, when he threw across his body, Hutchinson opened himself up for a big hit. Offensive coordinator Terry Shea has instructed him to avoid those situations.

"It's something I'm not going to do next time because that one kind of hurt," Hutchinson said, laughing. "(Shea) said, 'Stay on the run and don't expose yourself like that.' "

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