It'll be the protege vs. the mentor when Bears quarterback Kyle Orton and Buccaneers quarterback Brian Griese lead their teams into battle Sunday at Soldier Field.
During the previous two years, when they were teammates and sitting behind Rex Grossman most of the time, Orton, 25, learned a lot about the game from Griese, who is 33 and in his 11th NFL season.
"He's been a big part of my career the last couple years," Orton said. "We're good friends obviously, and I look up to him."
Ironically, the two former backups are now starters. While Orton spent the majority of the 2006 and `07 seasons riding the pine, he learned two important virtues: patience and preparation – and his teacher was Griese.
"Whenever you're a backup, patience is a virtue," said Orton, who struggled with that concept early in his inactivity after starting 15 games as a rookie in 2005.
But even when he wasn't playing, Orton learned from Griese the importance of keeping himself ready to play. When he got his chance to start the final three games in `07, he performed well enough to be given a shot at the starting job this year in training camp.
"He prepares extremely well," Orton said of Griese, "and certainly that helped me in my own preparation. I tried to model myself after the way that he prepares. He has all aspects of the game down, and he's prepared for all situations in the game. I think about that in my approach also."
Orton is clearly appreciative of the lessons he was taught by Griese and the two still talk regularly, but the pupil wants badly to defeat his teacher.
QB Brian Griese
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
"I've talked to him each week so far," Orton said. "I don't know if we'll talk now from here on and out, but I can't wait to beat him."
To do that, Orton will have to do more than manage the game against the team that popularized the Cover-2 defense in the NFL. The Bucs are just 23rd in total yards allowed this season, but like any good Cover-2 scheme, they're stingy when it comes to points allowed – tied for No. 8.
"They're not out of a position a whole lot," Orton said. "But we feel [they] give us a chance to play fast. It's a similar style of defense what we see every day in practice."
Finishing drives and making plays will be crucial to the Bears' success Sunday. Last week against the Panthers the offense had just two drives longer than 26 yards, and neither of them resulted in a touchdown. They went 67 yards in the first quarter but came away empty-handed when tight end Greg Olsen lost a fumble at the Carolina 27-yard line. In the second quarter, the Bears drove 84 yards but could only manage Robbie Gould's 26-yard field goal when the march bogged down inside the Panthers' 10-yard line.
"We have to put together good drives, and we've got to finish them," Bears offensive coordinator Ron Turner said. "It's a work in progress. We're getting better, [but] we've got to make some of the plays down the field in the passing game when we have opportunities. And that'll come."
Against the Panthers, the Bears had just one pass play longer than 15 yards.
"I think it's just a matter of getting reps, getting the timing, and we'll hit those," Turner said. "I'm confident we'll hit them. That'll be the next step."
A lot will depend on how well Orton has mastered the lessons he learned from Griese.
News & Notes
Pro Bowl return specialist Devin Hester didn't practice Wednesday because of the rib injury he suffered in Week 2, and he probably won't practice Thursday. But even if he doesn't practice Friday, he could still return kicks on Sunday.
“If he's ready to go Sunday, he'll play," said head coach Lovie Smith, who offered no information on Hester's rib injury. "Game time, if he's ready to go, he'll be on the field."
Chances are he won't be, although the Bears won't make that concession until Sunday morning so the Bucs can spend time worrying about how to defend the Pro Bowl return specialist.
On Wednesday, Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden wasn't sure how he would deal with Hester – if he plays – or even if he would kick to him.
"That probably wouldn't be very smart on our part," Gruden said. "I've seen over the years this guy is very dangerous. We'll have to be very selective and be careful of how we kick to him. He's certainly one of the very best to ever play back there, so we'll have to be very careful and use real good judgment when we do kick to him."
If Hester needs a week to heal, Danieal Manning will handle kickoff returns and punts will be fielded by either starting cornerback Nathan Vasher or rookie wide receiver Earl Bennett, who has been inactive the first two weeks but was catching simulated punts from the Juggs machine after practice. …
Brandon McGowan's season-ending fractured ankle, which will require surgery this week, will give Manning another opportunity as the No. 1 nickelback. Manning lost the job to McGowan in the preseason, but now he's back.
S Danieal Manning
Warren Wimmer Photobraphy
"He's always been one of our guys," Smith said of Manning. "We're real comfortable with him playing. Danieal has played a lot of football around here."
Manning started 29 games at safety his first two years but lost the job to McGowan, who in turn was beaten out by Kevin Payne, who led the Bears with 13 tackles last week.
McGowan missed two games last season with an elbow injury. He ended the 2005 season on injured reserve following knee surgery, which caused him to start the 2006 season on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list.
In his first game back, he suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon and spent the remainder of the season on injured reserve. Free safety Mike Brown missed 43 of 64 games the previous four years with injuries.
"History tells you guys will go down, especially it seems like at the safety position," Smith said. "So it's next guy up for us, and we feel lucky to have a player like Danieal ready to step in." …
Brandon Lloyd's diving 14-yard catch in the third quarter left him lying on his back, untouched inside the 1-yard line, but he was touched down before he could get into the end zone.
"I didn't know where I was until I kind of rolled over and said, `Oh, there's the pylon,' and I stuck the ball out," Lloyd said. "But I knew once we put our jumbo package in we would have scored. I walked off and Coach Lovie was like, 'Did you score? Did you score?' I was like, 'No, don't worry about it. We'll get it.'
Fullback Jason McKie scored on the next play.
Quote to Note
“It's kind of like we gave the game away. We know we should have won that game.” – Rookie RB Matt Forte on the 20-17 loss to the Panthers, which the Bears led 17-3 in the third quarter.
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