Just in case you've been living in a Burmese jungle the last few decades or so, the Monsters of the Midway have not had a Pro Bowler at the game's most important position since 1985 and are still looking for a long-term solution under center.
QB Rex Grossman
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That's not to say Kyle Orton didn't do some good things for the Bears, as he put together a better-than-expected first half of the season before severely spraining his right ankle in Week 9 against Detroit. After sitting on the sideline for one game and watching Rex Grossman play his typical brand of uninspiring football, Orton probably came back too early and limped his way through the balance of the schedule. The offense as a whole was especially effective on the opening drive and at the end of either half, although it sputtered badly in the second and third quarters more often than not.
Head coach Lovie Smith was satisfied with Orton's performance overall and seemed to indicate that the bearded one would be his starter once again in 2009, although general manager Jerry Angelo was singing a different tune and promised competition for the incumbent going forward.
Inside the Numbers
Orton completed 272 of his 465 attempts (58.5 percent) for 2,972 yards with 18 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, and he also scored three more TDs on the ground. While he never had a passer rating below 71 through the first eight games of the season, he was at 49.2 or below in three of four outings from Week 13 through Week 16. Even though Orton is far from nimble in the pocket and was sacked at least once in all 15 of his starts, only four times all year was he sacked more than twice.
His statistics were not exactly impressive, but Orton deserves a fair amount of credit for giving Chicago a legitimate air attack despite a laughable crop of wide receivers offering little support. He played through pain, never made any excuses after losses, and earned a lot of respect in the locker room. As for the future, undrafted free agent rookie Caleb Hanie forced the front office to keep him on the 53-man roster with an encouraging preseason and could develop into a viable option for 2010.
Just when Orton looked like he had finally solidified what had been a rotating cast of has-been and never-will-be QBs for a proud franchise, he got hurt and simply couldn't recapture the magic he tapped into in September and October. While the Bears are convinced they can win with him at the controls, the rest of the league will suggest they start over and select a signal caller in Round 1 of the NFL Draft. Grossman had one final opportunity to prove his worth at Soldier Field against then-undefeated Tennessee in Week 10, yet he failed for the last time and should finally be sporting a new address by next season.
Most Bears fans don't want to hear this, but Orton's numbers compare quite favorably – or unfavorably, depending on your perspective – to Grossman's: In 33 career starts, Orton has a 21-12 record, a 30-to-27 TD-to-INT ratio, and a passer rating of 71.1; in 31 career starts, Grossman has a 19-12 record, a 33-to-35 TD-to-INT ratio, and a passer rating of 70.2.
QB Caleb Hanie
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It's reasonable to think Orton can improve next year since he's still only 26 years old and has tremendous work habits both on and off the field, but he doesn't look to be on the verge of any appearances in the Pro Bowl. Angelo was crystal clear at his season-ending press conference that games are won and lost in the NFL with quarterbacks, meaning an addition in free agency like Byron Leftwich or David Carr could be on the horizon in order to push Orton further. There are too many needs on both sides of the ball to expect the Bears to address the position on Day 1 of the draft, so a second-tier prospect like Cullen Harper of Clemson or Hunter Cantwell of Louisville might make some sense.
Hanie won himself a lot of support around the Windy City playing as well as he did in a handful of exhibition games, but asking him to challenge for the starting job in 2009 won't give Orton any reason to be nervous.
John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.