For the first time in five years, quarterback Rex Grossman isn't No. 1 on the Bears' depth chart. He and Kyle Orton are alternating practice days running the first-team offense, and the competition is expected to extend into the preseason.
Grossman is coming off an inconsistent 2007 season when he was benched early for poor play but performed better when given a second chance, although not well enough to be given the starting job.
"I think I have a little bit of a chip on my shoulder striving to prove myself in this league and get myself over that hump to become a great quarterback in this league consistently," said Grossman, who has often mixed exceptional and horrendous games throughout his first five seasons. "I'm working as hard as I can to get there. There's a lot in front of me, but I feel I can handle everything that's thrown at me."
There has already been unsubstantiated speculation in both directions that the Bears are leaning toward one quarterback over the other, but Grossman is focusing on what he can control.
"It is what it is," he said of the competition. "I'm doing my job and not commenting on anything else. I'm really just focused on me getting better."
Both quarterbacks are working with a wide receiver unit in transition. Veteran free agents Marty Booker and Brandon Lloyd were added earlier in the offseason, and rookie Earl Bennett was drafted in the third round. All three could be major players in a revamped offense, which means both quarterbacks have a lot of on-the-field relationships to work on between now and the season opener. Having to split practice reps could slow the development of that rapport.
QB Rex Grossman
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
"I don't really know yet," Grossman said. "But I have plenty of time. If I feel like I don't have enough reps with somebody, I bring them out here when we're not practicing, and we go through stuff. But I don't think it's going to be a problem."
Grossman re-signed with the Bears in the offseason rather than opting for a fresh start elsewhere, mainly because of his familiarity with the organization. But he's playing under a one-year contract, increasing the pressure on him to perform this year – which could determine in which direction his career heads.
"I think anybody going into their last year of their contract or signing a one-year deal, it's added pressure on them to have a good season," he said. "And I'm excited about the opportunities if that were the case. Who knows what's going to happen? I've got one thing in mind: that's having a good season this year."
NEWS & NOTES
"When you're in a contract dispute, you're viewed as selfish and many different things," said Briggs, who skipped most voluntary offseason work the previous two years while posturing for his deal and can sympathize with Urlacher.
"Even though that is a fact, that you're thinking about yourself, no one else is really going to think about you but you," Briggs said. "No one else is going to take care of you like you. In football, the way things work, if you've outplayed your contract, you've outplayed your contract. It doesn't matter if you've been making a lot of money. You're a marquee player, and everyone knows what our marquee player (Urlacher) has meant to not only this team but this city and this organization. Football players know. In this business you know exactly what your value is, and it's time to get a new deal."
Briggs said he doesn't need to offer any advice to Urlacher based on his own – sometimes acrimonious – negotiations.
"I don't really need to tell him anything because he already understands," Briggs said. "He's been in this league a lot longer (three years) than me. So as far as the business side, he understands probably better than I do."
QB Kyle Orton
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
That situation has been alternated on a daily basis throughout the offseason beginning with organized team activities that started in May.
Unlike last season, Orton is competing for the No. 1 job and has three late-season starts from the previous season to build on. He did not take a single snap in 2006 and came to training camp in 2007 entrenched as the No. 3 quarterback behind Grossman and Brian Griese.
"It's always tough when you come into a season without playing at all the season before," he said. "To get the three games at the end of [last] year and get a lot of work in so far in the offseason, I feel like I'm a better player."
Benson took most of the snaps with the first team during minicamp, but he is expected to face a training camp battle for the featured role from second-round draft pick Matt Forte.
Despite an offseason arrest for boating while intoxicated and resisting arrest that generated a lot of unneeded notoriety for the veteran, the charges have been disputed by Benson and at least two impartial observers and will be challenged in court. Benson, who suffered a fractured ankle last November, is running and cutting without restrictions, has lost about 10 pounds since last season and seems quicker than he's been in the past.
QUOTE TO NOTE
"I feel great. It really hasn't been an issue. I did the rehab. I think it was six weeks. I did it in Arizona with, obviously, direction from our team. But I feel good, really good." – LB Brian Urlacher on his offseason neck surgery.
BEAR REPORT: The only publication exclusively dedicated to your Chicago Bears.