INDIANAPOLIS--While Bears coach Lovie Smith repeatedly refused to rule anything out at the quarterback position, he also made it quite clear the Bears envision Caleb Hanie in a position to be the backup quarterback this season.
You don't have to extrapolate anything Smith said Saturday afternoon at the combine to realize the Bears are not expected to make a play for a free agent. No, they won't be in a Kurt Warner derby if the two-time MVP does not re-sign with the Arizona Cardinals before Friday. They're also not expected to court Byron Leftwich or Chris Simms. Leftwich wouldn't want to join the Bears any way, he's seeking a starting job. Simms has stated his preference to return to Tennessee, where the Titans want him back. After those two, the discard pile is a short list of has been and never were type passers.
"I think sometimes you have to go with young talent,'' Smith said.
"You keep all the options open and you see what is available and see if it is a good fit for our football team,'' he said. "That's the way we've looked at it every year. Nothing has changed this year. But if you ask me if I feel comfortable at the quarterback position right now? Yes, I do."
Young talent would be Hanie, who playing with the No. 3's put up the best numbers of any Bears quarterbacks in the preseason last summer. The undrafted free agent from Colorado State wasn't a lock to make the roster but he really opened some eyes for the Bears and apparently they have not forgotten. Newly signed Brett Basanez could also be in the mix. The St. Viator and Northwestern star was a career No. 3 and practice squad player in Carolina.
But who is the No. 2 moving forward is really insignificant in the big picture. The coming season will be defined, in large part, by Kyle Orton's ability to improve. If he does, the Bears could have a stable future at the position. If he doesn't, the club might as well rewind to 2003 when it was trying to move past the Jim Miller-Chris Chandler (and don't forget Henry Burris) era and ended up selecting Rex Grossman with the second of two first-round draft picks.
"What stood out to me the most was how he started out the football season,'' Smith said of Orton. ``This time last year, competing for the job, he earned it. And then starting off the football season, before Kyle injured his ankle I thought he was doing all of the things we thought he could do and we needed him to do. After the injury, he didn't play as well.
"He is working out already. He is on a mission. I loved his leadership throughout. Got a chance to see him in some tough situations. Guys need to go through a little adversity, all quarterbacks do, you need to be able to handle it. He's solid. He'll be able to handle it. He'll come back strong this season.''
Smith said Orton's injured right ankle would be "95 percent" or better for minicamp, which is just more than three weeks off.
Check back soon for more updates. Jerry Angelo will face the media in less than an hour.