Should Kyle Orton Be Worried?

Two years ago, Kyle Orton was the starting quarterback on a division winner as a rookie. Nowadays, he is perhaps the most forgotten about player in the Bears locker room after spending all of last season as the third-stringer. And with J.T. O'Sullivan playing so well in NFL Europa and Chris Leak earning praise from coaches at rookie mini camp, could Orton's roster spot be in jeopardy?

The Chicago Bears may not have had the best quarterback situation in the NFL last season, but at least it was stable.

Rex Grossman went from NFC Offensive Player of the Month in September to a near benching in Week 14 at St. Louis, but he finally stayed healthy and started all 23 games from preseason through postseason. Brian Griese signed a five-year contract in March of 2006 to be the veteran backup this team desperately needed, and he saw action in six games largely in mop-up duty. Kyle Orton spent his second season as the third-stringer and scout-team QB after starting 15 games as a rookie the year before.

And despite the tidal wave of criticism Grossman took from the local and national media along the way, he will once again get the nod and be atop the depth chart in 2007. Griese came to the Windy City partially because he believed he would get a fair shake at the starting job, but at this point in his career, second string is a better role for him. He may have much more experience than Grossman, but at least Grossman has won two playoff games in his career – two more than Griese has.

It was assumed that Orton would once again be the No. 3 man, but all of a sudden, he may have to look over his shoulder.

The Bears signed J.T. O'Sullivan, a five-year veteran out of California-Davis back on Feb. 8. After starting his career with New Orleans, O'Sullivan has spent time on the active roster the last three seasons with Green Bay, Minnesota, and Carolina. He has appeared in only one game in his career – in 2004 with the Packers – and is yet to throw a pass in the NFL.

The Bears sent O'Sullivan to the Frankfurt Galaxy of NFL Europa for some extra seasoning.

Although the competition in NFL Europa is far from NFC North quality, nobody can deny the fact that O'Sullivan has played well across the pond. In five games, he's completing 64% of his passes and has thrown 5 touchdowns against only 1 interception. His passer rating of 104.7 is by far the best in the league, leading the Galaxy to a 3-2 record so far – tied for first place in the standings.

At 6'2" and 227 pounds, O'Sullivan is big enough to take a pounding on Sundays but still fairly mobile and able to make plays outside the pocket.

The Bears did show their commitment to Grossman by not selecting another quarterback in last month's NFL Draft, however, they did sign another former Gator signal-caller as an undrafted free agent.

Chris Leak showed up at rookie mini camp in Lake Forest fresh off a national championship at the University of Florida. Despite the fact that he was a four-year starter at a powerhouse program, Leak did not hear his name called on draft weekend. His performance at the Combine in Indianapolis this past February failed to impress NFL scouts, but no stopwatch can take away the fact that he won a ton of games as a collegian in arguably the country's toughest conference – the SEC.

Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Among those impressed with his showing at mini camp back on May 4-6 was head coach Lovie Smith.

"You go to his track record," Smith said. "He's led his team to a national championship, so you know he's a good leader. He's thrown a lot of passes, played a lot of people and started a lot of games for the University of Florida. So that tells you a lot."

Leak could have signed with any team after the draft, but he believes that the Bears provide him with the best opportunity.

"This is the best situation for me," Leak said. "To learn under a veteran quarterback like Rex Grossman, somebody I admired and watched through college [and] learned how to play college ball after him. I came in the year he left Florida (2003)."

If Chicago is indeed the best situation for Leak – or even O'Sullivan for that matter – then he must believe he has a shot to beat out Orton for the No. 3 job next season.

After Grossman went down with an injury in the 2005 preseason, Orton morphed from rookie fourth-rounder to opening-day starter in a hurry. After putting up serious numbers at Purdue, Orton proved to be a more polished passer right away than projected starter Chad Hutchinson. Orton ended up directing an eight-game win streak before Grossman finally returned in Week 15 against Atlanta, while Hutchinson was pink-slipped and hasn't been heard from since.

Orton did not exactly light the world on fire statistically in 15 games as a rookie, throwing 9 TD tosses against 13 INTs and compiling a passer rating of 59.7. However, he put the Bears in position to win the NFC North and allowed his dominant defense and superlative special teams to lead the way. The offense ranked just 29th in the league, but the Monsters of the Midway still managed to finish with an 11-5 record and earned a first-round bye in the playoffs.

But Orton has hardly been heard from since, and he did not throw a single pass during the 2006 season.

Grossman will start in 2007 and Griese is once again the No. 2 man, but Orton's hold on the third spot appears to be less secure than it was a year ago. He has a better arm and more NFL tools than either O'Sullivan or Leak, but he did not play well in training camp last season and developed a reputation for enjoying the Chicago nightlife just a little too much. Orton has been the subject of several infamous internet photographs, slugging a bottle of Jack Daniel's and making a fool of himself.

Orton didn't have to worry about B.J. Symons too much a year ago, but Leak in particular could put make the quarterback battle in Bourbonnais a little more interesting.

John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and Editor in Chief of BearReport.com. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.

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