Teammates Excited For New QB

While Rex Grossman is downplaying his first professional start against the Vikings on Sunday, his teammates are excited to see what he can do.

With the Bears' playoff chances all but destroyed after a 1-5 start, and both veteran quarterbacks Kordell Stewart and Chris Chandler having played poorly throughout the season, the first coming of rookie quarterback Rex Grossman has been anxiously awaited.

The wait is over.

Grossman tried to downplay the significance of his ascension to the starting lineup, even though the anticipation and the expectations have been building for weeks.

"I don't think it's that big a deal to change one position, even though it's a very important position," Grossman said, convincing no one. "Hopefully we work together as an offense very well and it's not so much about me. That's really what I'm trying to do is not make it so much about me, even though it is my first time playing."

But even his teammates are anxious to witness the debut of the Grossman Show, which they hope will enjoy a longer run than an earlier Bears situation comedy (emphasis on comedy) involving Cade McNown, their 1999 first-round draft pick.

"Some things you can't teach, and I believe he has (those things)," said Bears defensive end Alex Brown, who played two seasons with Grossman at the University of Florida. "I've seen him do it. I've seen him throw passes just a little off in practice, and then in the game, they fall between three people right to the receiver he was expecting to get it to. For some reason, he just takes it up a notch in the game."

Most of his teammates have only seen Grossman in a preseason game. He threw more passes than Chris Chandler and Kordell Stewart combined in the preseason. His passer rating of 56.2 wasn't very impressive, but he's had 3 1/2 months to learn the system since then.

"It's going to be fun to see what he can do," guard Chris Villarrial said. "The guy's got a lot of talent. He wasn't a first-round draft pick for nothing. What really impressed me today was the guy threw a 75-yard ball in the air and hit the receiver in stride. It was pretty impressive. It's going to be exciting to see what he does."

Grossman hopes that an intense week of cramming will have him ready to take his first NFL snap Sunday and reduce any opening-day jitters.

"I think if I prepare as much as I plan on and I know everything, it'll take some of that nervousness away just because I'll know exactly what I'm going to do in each situation," Grossman said. "But I might be too excited to start with a little bit. Hopefully I'll get comfortable quick."

When the 23-year-old Grossman faces the Vikings at Soldier Field, it will have been more than 11 months since he played in a football game that counted — Florida's Outback Bowl appearance in January. All the practice and film study cannot compensate for not playing the game.

"You definitely cannot prepare him for the speed of the game, the way it's going to unfold on Sunday, or certainly the emotional level that he will be at when that game starts," said Bears coach Dick Jauron, who intends for Grossman to start all three of the Bears' remaining games. "We won't be able to prepare him for that. He's going to have to handle that. Then he's going to have to get a feel for the speed of the game quickly. It will present itself to him very quickly."

Jauron intimated for weeks that Grossman would get his opportunity after the Bears were eliminated from playoff contention. But Jauron doesn't consider Grossman's promotion a concession.

"We believe that he can win," Jauron said. "I know that he's got the skills, but it's a much different game than he's ever been involved in before."

Still, Grossman brings all the attributes that made him the 22nd player drafted.

"His chief attribute is his awareness as a football player, his vision," Jauron said. "He sees the field well. I think he's got a good feel for the game. I think he's got a good sense of what ball to throw when. He can touch the ball. He doesn't always drive the ball. He may still drive it a little more than he has to at times, but I think that's natural, too.

"He's got arm strength. He's got a very tight spiral even into the wind. His ball cuts the wind well. That's always a factor when you're here. He's tough. He likes to play."

Grossman's promotion didn't come as a shock, but he wasn't expecting to find out his status until Wednesday morning. He got a call from Jauron Tuesday night.

"He told me that I was going to be the starter," said Grossman who became a starter less than halfway through his redshirt freshman season in Gainesville. "I was going to come in here (Wednesday) and just go to practice like normal. I wasn't expecting anything."

SERIES HISTORY: 85th meeting. Bears trail Vikings in series 46-37-2. Vikings have won past two meetings, but Bears won three straight prior to that.

  • Demoted quarterback Kordell Stewart accepts his status as the backup to rookie Rex Grossman without bitterness, and he doesn't need anyone to explain the situation to him.

    "There wasn't a real reason (given), but it is what it is," Stewart said of the Bears' decision to start their first-round draft pick for the remainder of the season. "I'm 31 years old. I'm a grown man. I don't need you to hold my hand and give me a lollypop and tell me what's going on. You make a decision for whatever reason, and situations like this are kind of tough.

    "It kind of makes you wonder what the heck you're doing here when you got another quarterback going in (Chris Chandler), and then all of a sudden you've got a rookie playing. The only thing you can do is sit back and just keep playing because I am the second guy on the charts. You just kind of roll with the punches because if I sit here and try to think about it, I'll get real dizzy. I'll need a bag of extra strength Advil to keep my headache down and keep my mind right. I don't have time to be worrying about what they're trying to do and where they're going with it."

    Stewart knows that whatever direction the Bears go in next season, he may not be along for the ride.

    "My future here?" he said. "I don't know. My future as a quarterback in the NFL? I will be playing quarterback again. That's a promise. I can guarantee you that. Right now this is the situation, and the hand that's been dealt. It's unfortunate I had more hearts in my hand than I had spades and jokers. I just have to wait until the opportunity comes again. It may not be here, it may be somewhere else, but it will happen again, I can promise you that."

  • With his 88-yard kickoff return for a touchdown last Sunday, Jerry Azumah turned a bad special-teams day into a good one.

    He fumbled his first return after a 10-yard gain, and his next four returns went for 23, 37, 17 and 12 yards. Azumah's 31.4-yard average leads the NFL, and he and the Chiefs' Dante Hall are the only players with 2 kickoff-return TDs this season. Azumah could be the Bears' best chance for a Pro Bowl player.

    "I'm not really thinking about it," he said. "If it happens, it happens. I'm just trying to go out there and make plays, period. Our kickoff return unit, we have a lot of confidence and we have that feeling every time they kick off the ball that we can take it to the house. We're playing with the passion and pride and only thinking about that moment in time right then and there. We're not thinking about anything else."

    BY THE NUMBERS: After Rex Grossman takes his first snap Sunday, the Bears will have used three starting quarterbacks this season, including Kordell Stewart and Chris Chandler. They used three starters last season: Jim Miller, Chandler and Henry Burris, and a fourth, Cory Sauter, played. In 2001, Miller and Shane Matthews both started games. In 2000, Miller, Matthews and Cade McNown all started games and all three also started games in 1999.

  • The Vikings rushed for 202 yards against the Bears in Week Two, including 108 on 21 carries by Moe Williams. But the Bears have held five of their last seven opponents to under 100 rushing yards.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "Think quick and run fast." — Fellow rookie Justin Gage's advice for quarterback Rex Grossman, who makes his NFL debut Sunday.

    The debate over whether Bobby Gray or Mike Green should be the starting strong safety rages on.

    Gray is a lights-out hitter but basically an in-the-box safety who is still learning how to cover. Green has better speed and is better in coverage, but hardly another cornerback.

    Gray has started five of the past seven games while Green has nursed a strained groin, which is still not 100 percent, according to coaches, although his name doesn't appear on the injury report. It almost appears as if the coaching staff is going out of its way to avoid making Green look bad by losing the starting job on merit rather than injury.

    Defensive coordinator Greg Blache teed up members of the media who continue to clamor for Gray, since he's made more big hits in the past seven weeks than Green has in four years.

    "Not to minimize Bobby," Blache said. "He makes big hits, but there's more to playing football than just big hits. I don't know how else to explain to you people, but there are other things. There's coverage, there's checks, there's handling other things, and I've said it before and you don't understand it so I don't know how else to explain it to you. His time will come. When his time comes we'll all sacrifice and cheer and go woo. But you know what, in the meantime we will make the decision that we think is best. I know you guys think you know better, but you don't know diddley."


  • OT Qasim Mitchell practiced with the first unit at left tackle on Wednesday and could start there if Mike Gandy (shoulder) isn't available. Mitchell, a first-year player, was promoted from the practice squad four weeks ago and played for the first time ever last week, filling in at left tackle for the final two plays of the game after Gandy was hurt.

  • OT Mike Gandy (shoulder) didn't practice on Wednesday, but he hopes to be able to do so by Friday and play by Sunday.

  • RB Anthony Thomas says he is completely recovered from a bout with viral pneumonia that sidelined him in Week 13. He got just nine carries last week but is expected to be back to his normal 20-25 carries this week.

  • CB/PR R.W. McQuarters has moved up to No. 2 in the NFC in punt returns with a 12.9-yard average.

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