More than a Crutch

Almost all the off-season talk regarding the Bears' offense has centered on the return to health of starting quarterback Rex Grossman. But, since Grossman has ended each of his two NFL seasons on injured reserve, including the final 13 games last season, the progress of backup Chad Hutchinson has been encouraging.

"He's solidified the backup quarterback position for us," coach Lovie Smith said, "so that helped a lot, too."

On more than one occasion during the June OTAs, Hutchinson proved his arm strength by launching the ball 60 plus yards in the air to connect with his intended target.

Hutchinson wasn't signed until Sept. 28 last season, and then had to cram most of the season to get up to speed with the offense.

He started the final five games of the campaign and led the team in passing yards, touchdowns and completion percentage. The six-foot-4, 225-pound QB put up decent numbers despite the fact that the pass protection was nonexistent. Hutchinson was sacked 23 times, which accounted for more than one-third of the team total of 66.

Hutchinson didn't have the benefit of a running game when he was behind center. Thomas Jones averaged 3.6 yards per carry over the season's final five games.

Part of the reason the Bears didn't go after a veteran quarterback in the off-season was their belief in Hutchinson. He's a major upgrade over what the Bears had behind Rex Grossman last season.

The Bears have played at least three quarterbacks in six of the last seven years. A QB hasn't started all 16 games in a season since Eric Kramer in 1995. So the odds point to Hutchinson getting a chance to play at some point. He has been working hard to learn the offense of Ron Turner, who likes his quarterbacks to have a quick release. Being a former pitcher, Hutchinson has always had more of a windup delivery, but the upgraded offensive line should give him an additional beat to get rid of the ball.

Hutchinson is the unquestioned No. 2 on the depth chart. The Bears selected Kyle Orton in the fourth-round with the hope that he will not see the field as a rookie.

With the shift in the belief that a backup quarterback is developed from within the organization, Hutchinson's time in Chicago could be limited. He'll become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. The progress of Grossman and Orton will determine the course of action. Orton may develop quicker than expected or have trouble adapting to a pro style offense. If Hutchinson sits all year behind a healthy Grossman, he'll be relatively inexpensive to bring back as an insurance policy. If he plays and has success, the Bears may have to pony up starters money.

At least for this season, the Bears can say they believe their backup quarterback can play.

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