Test Drive

Chad Hutchinson will get the keys to the car later tonight, when he steps behind center against the Indianapolis Colts.

Following the injury to Rex Grossman, the Bears have preached how three preseason games is more than enough time for Hutchinson to prep for his starting quarterback role.

"I think this year is so much different this year than last year," Turner said. "He's been in the system at least through the off-season and all through camp he's got a real good feel for it. So when he's starting out this time he's much more prepared."

Even though it sounds good in theory, putting it into practice is another story. Hutchinson and Muhsin Muhammad have connected in practice, but facing a live pass rush will turn a routine throw into a live experiment in playmaking ability.

"I think the pressure increases for the skilled positions on the team," Muhammad said. "The receivers are definitely going to have to make adjustments to different styles of balls they're throwing. And you're make some plays where maybe couldn't have made a play."

Hutchinson has started 14 regular season games, including the final five contests in 2004. The talent around him is vastly superior to that of what he played with last year.

Aside from having a No. 1 receiver, in Muhammad, the offensive line has gone from a revolving door to a blockade.

The first string unit hasn't allowed a sack in two preseason games. Hutchinson was sacked 23 times on 161 passing attempts a year ago. While part of the blame can go on the o-line, Hutchinson has a tendency to hold onto the ball too long. In the off-season, he worked to cut down his pitcher like delivery.

"Just getting my feet right," Hutchison said of what has sped up his release. "I think that's one of the biggest things, is that when your feet are ready then you can throw the ball. When they're not, then it's going to take you a while to get rid of the ball."

Hutchinson is in a much better position than he was at this time last year. He was out of football and waiting for a training camp invite. The phone didn't ring until Grossman went down with a season ending knee injury in Week 3.

The six-foot-4, 225-pounder didn't take a snap in the offense until preparing for his first start in Week 13 against the Vikings. Despite his lack of preparation, he led the Bears to a 24-14 victory over Minnesota by throwing three touchdown passes and no interceptions.

Although Hutchinson went to Bourbonnais as the backup, he has displayed leadership skills in the huddle worthy of a veteran.

"He's loose," said center Olin Kreutz. "He believes in himself and a quarterback needs to believe in himself so we can all believe in him too."

Hutchinson can take a step toward answering questions about the legitimacy of the offense with a solid performance against Indianapolis. With a potentially dominating defense, he doesn't have to be Peyton Manning, just slightly above average.

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