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BOURBONNAIS, Ill.--Are the Bears content going into the season with two backups behind Jay Cutler who have attempted a total of 11 passes in the NFL?

Maybe.

But the team is not heading toward the regular season without at least exploring options. Mike Lombardi of the National Football Post reports that the Jacksonville Jaguars were not the only team to miss out in the services of Andrew Walter last week after he was released in Oakland. Lombardi writes that "Chicago wanted to sign former Raiders quarterback Andrew Walter.''

Walter is a big, strong-armed passer who has nine career starts with eight of them coming in 2006. His numbers were not pretty with the Raiders but he was playing on some bad teams. Walter chose to sign in New England where his competition for the backup job behind Tom Brady is Kevin O'Connell. Maybe seeing what being Brady's backup did for Matt Cassel pushed Walter in that direction. He turned down his college coach at Arizona State in Dirk Koetter by saying no to the Jaguars. Koetter is the offensive coordinator in Jacksonville and while the Jags' passing game struggled last season after a myriad of injuries on the offensive line, Koetter did quite well in 2007.

Caleb Hanie and Brett Basanez have not done a lot to stand out a training camp that has been dominated by Cutler. Hanie has flashed his ability to keep plays alive with his legs, and Basanez has made the occasional throw. The test for them will come when preseason begins and Hanie is expected to receive plenty of work Saturday at Buffalo. Basanez is the only one with NFL game experience. He threw 11 passes at Carolina in 2006.

Stay tuned.


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BOURBONNAIS, Ill.--Lovie Smith is adamant that Michael Vick deserves a second chance in the NFL after missing two seasons and spending nearly two years in prison for his role in a dogfighting ring.

"I think Mike deserves a second chance, I'll say that again,'' Smith said in his kickoff press conference to training camp Thursday afternoon at Olivet Nazarene University. ``Like everyone in society after they have paid their debt to society on any type of crime, you deserve a second chance.''

Too bad for Vick, Smith doesn't see a need on the Bears' roster, which stands one shy of the limit at 79 after the retirement of safety Glenn Earl earlier this week. Vick is seeking a new home after commissioner Roger Goodell conditionally reinstated him earlier this week. Vick is cleared to participate in all of training camp, play in the final two games of preseason and participate in regular-season games by Week 6 at the latest. The sooner Vick finds a new home, the quicker he will be able to reacclimate himself to life as a quarterback in the league, learning a new offense, new teammates and new surroundings that will certainly be a circus from the start.

"As far as we're concerned, we like the team we have right now,'' Smith said. "So if you're asking me about whether we're looking for receivers or are we going to trade guys, we like this team. I don't think we need to add anything else at this time.''

The Bears' eighth summer at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., is going to be like never before starting Friday with the arrival of the Jay Cutler Tour.

What if they added Michael Vick to the mix?

That might just turn the campus upside down for a few weeks. My colleague Mike Mulligan explores just that issue in today's edition of the Sun-Times. He points out that if general manager Jerry Angelo was truly fixated with the quarterback position, then is it enough to add Cutler? Does he really want Caleb Hanie or Brett Basanez one snap away from being thrust into the spotlight? It's a question that teams have to be asking themselves everywhere this week. What can Vick do for us?

"There are people who never will forgive Vick and protesters who are sure to follow him to whatever NFL city he eventually lands,'' Mulligan writes. "Why would the Bears or any NFL team open itself up to such scrutiny? Cynical as it sounds, in the Bears' case, the scrutiny would help. It would be a welcome diversion to Jay Cutler fever, offer a storyline to pursue, another name to acknowledge, a different circus to follow."

From a football standpoint, the question with Vick is where is his talent level at after sitting out for two seasons and how quickly could he learn an offense to be effective, even if it was in just a part-time hybrid Wildcat role? As part of his conditional return to the game, commissioner Roger Goodell has cleared him to participate in training camp, play in the final two weeks of the preseason and participate in all team activities with the exception of games. Goodell will consider a full reinstatement by Week 6 at the latest. That means Vick could be on the playing field before even then if all goes well.

We've spent plenty of time here the last three-plus weeks discussing the big stories that lie ahead in training camp and how things will shake out. Let's mix it up this morning and go a different direction. Here is a list of eight players not expected to be in the starting lineup but worth watching during training camp and preseason. Some of them will need to perform well and against odds to land a spot on the 53-man roster. We chose only players who have never started a game in the NFL. A look:

Safety Al Afalava. The Bears went into the draft knowing they needed a free safety but with their draft position, they didn't identify any that would fill their need in what was considered a weak class. They wound up grabbing Afalava in the sixth round, and he's a strong safety although the Bears have said he can play both positions. He's a serious hitter and should provide some exciting moments late in some preseason games that are otherwise not exciting. It could be an uphill battle to make the roster and just being a thumper won't get it done for him. He needs to show instincts first. Missing the bulk of the offseason program because of the rules for schools like Oregon State that are on the quarter system didn't help him.

Cornerback Zack Bowman. He's got to be a candidate for the most improved player from last summer to now. Remember, Bowman didn't make the 53-man roster last September and started on the practice squad before getting a promotion. He did well for himself in shorts and a helmet this spring and needs to build off that momentum. The biggest challenge for the fifth-round draft pick from 2008 will be staying healthy. He's got to stay on the field.

Defensive tackle Jarron Gilbert. The real hit-or-miss nature of the Bears' drafts over the last five seasons makes you wonder about the current class of rookies. First-round pick Jay Cutler should look great. Ditto third-round pick Jay Cutler. The rest of the bunch is unknown and you might as well start with Gilbert, who was drafted to come in and help out a problem area for the defense on the line last season. They don't need him to be on the all-rookie team, and he doesn't have to start, but some meaningful contributions would help bolster the front seven.

Quarterback Caleb Hanie. All eyes will be on Cutler but Hanie's basically blank resume is going to make it imperative that he perform well in preseason. The Bears aren't going to panic if it looks sketchy behind Cutler, who has never missed an NFL start, but seeing some solid outings out of Hanie will make them feel pretty good about a potential No. 2 for a few seasons. You can be young and ineffective and hold down a job as a No. 3 a team is looking to develop. The backup needs to be able to come in and get a team through a game.

We were flipping through a few baseball games earlier this evening when the United Football League sent out a press release, oh, about the time Jayson Werth was circling the bases in Philadelphia following his three-run home run. The upstart league announced that quarterback JP Losman has been signed to play for the Las Vegas franchise.

"The United Football League is providing me with the opportunity to play the sport I love at a high level and for that, I am extremely grateful," Losman said. "There are many players just like me who possess the skills to compete at the highest levels and just need the playing time to showcase their talents. The United Football League is filling that void and giving more players the opportunity to play. I am excited to get back out onto the field and represent Las Vegas during the league's first season."

That removes one experienced quarterback from the list of players the Bears could consider if they go shopping. That probably will not happen unless Caleb Hanie and Brett Basanez bomb out in training camp and preseason. Hanie is in position to become the No. 2 behind Jay Cutler and the Bears--coach Lovie Smith included--really haven't wavered off that. Smith said back at the scouting combine that he was comfortable with the players the Bears had at the time. We've written it before here, Hanie's physical tools probably make him a better athletic match to a guy like Cutler than Kyle Orton. We're not saying Hanie is going to become Cutler, but like Cutler he has some ability to scramble and keep plays alive in the pocket. Hanie also throws a pretty good deep ball.

Brian Griese, the ex-Bear, remains the most attractive option on the open market. His agent Ralph Cindrich told us last week that Griese hopes to remain in the game but he wants to play. Presumably, that means he wants to be in position to play and being behind Cutler might be like being behind John Elway. Griese did that for a year in Denver. It got him a Super Bowl ring.

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The not so encouraging list of available quarterbacks grew by one on Monday when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers did the inevitable and cut ties with ex-Bear Brian Griese, reducing to four the number of signal callers they have on their roster.

Griese instantly becomes the best option for the Bears should they choose to bring in a veteran quarterback. At this point, less than three weeks from training camp, it appears they are confident casting their lot with Caleb Hanie as the backup to Jay Cutler. Brett Basanez is also in the mix but from the looks of things during the offseason program, Hanie will be in position to be the No. 2. The Bears are carrying just three quarterbacks to camp and that's not a problem because when they've had a fourth QB in the past he's done a lot of standing around.

"He wants to play,'' Griese's agent Ralph Cindrich said by text message.

In our daily countdown to training camp, we'll cover all the positions, one day at a time. Why not start with what will be the most watched position in camp, quarterback?

Projected starter: Jay Cutler, 6-3, 233 pounds, 4th year, Vanderbilt

Others

Brett Basanez, 6-1, 208, 2nd year, Northwestern
Caleb Hanie, 6-2, 225, 2nd year, Colorado State

Projected depth chart: Cutler, Hanie, Basanez

2009 salary cap numbers

Basanez $402,280
Cutler $1,560,000
Hanie $391,866

Number of quarterbacks on 2008 roster at start of the season: 3

Projected number of quarterbacks on 2009 roster at start of the season: 3

The skinny: Cutler is the most anticipated quarterback the Bears have had since the arrival of Jim McMahon more than a quarter-century ago. He possesses one of the most talented arms in the entire league and is being counted on to dramatically improve the production of a wide receivers corps that many still doubt. Cutler can make every throw on the field--he'll dazzle you with his arm strength at training camp--and should benefit from the presence of running back Matt Forte. One knock on Cutler has been his decision making. Sometimes he counts on his arm too much to slide the ball into spots it shouldn't go. But the Bears don't want to curb his aggressive nature. That is one of his strengths, after all. An awful lot has been made of the backup position with two unproven players in Hanie and Basanez but what's left out there to pursue? The bet is that Hanie will be every bit as good as a player on the discard pile right now. Basanez is a dink and dunk passer who will know the system inside out but can't make all the throws. Keep an eye on Hanie. He throws a nice deep ball.

Kevin Payne and Craig Steltz spent Wednesday running with the first team at safety. That could be one of the more compelling positions to watch come training camp, but coach Lovie Smith said the voluntary offseason program has helped answer some questions. Steltz, no question, has been one of the bigger climbers this offseason. The belief is his instincts and smarts will help make up for a lack of range at free safety.

"It's clearer,'' Smith said, of the position. "There are lot of positions that will go down to training camp. We're excited about where we right now, but we have to get there and then we'll really know. The next part of the evaluation process is to see the guys in pads, then in the preseason games.

"I like our preseason schedule, the teams that we have to play to get ready. A team like Buffalo that can run and pass, a similar offense. The next week a physical team like the Giants coming in. The third game of course is normally the game that everyone looks at, and to go on the road playing of course in a prime-time game, all of that is getting us ready for of course the Packers.''

*** Corey Graham was not in the mix at safety. He's been playing nickel cornerback since Danieal Manning was "nicked'' last week. Graham has gotten work at nickel, safety and cornerback this offseason. Graham played nickel for two games last season.

"You're just trying to find a way to play no matter where it is--safety, corner or nickel,'' Graham said. "It doesn't really matter to me. I just want to get out on the field and try to help out.''

*** Staying in the secondary, Charles Tillman was out as he continues to work his way back from shoulder surgery. Zack Bowman got work at left corner with the starters, and Smith singled him out for his work the past few months. Proving he can stay healthy moving forward will be the key.

The player who stood out Wednesday was Trumaine McBride, who was with the second team at right corner. McBride picked off a pass that went off the hands of Devin Hester and then broke up passes to Michael Gaines and Adrian Peterson on the next two snaps. Three snaps and three plays on the ball.

*** Caleb Hanie has clearly taken control of whatever competition there is to be the backup quarterback. He's edged ahead of Brett Basanez. Hanie throws a good deep ball and that was evident on his pass to Juaquin Iglesias on the final play of the workout.

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Emptying out the notebook for everything that is leftover from Wednesday's opening OTA:

*** If there was one undrafted college free agent that stood out now that the veterans are in the mix it was Louisville cornerback Woodny Turenne. By no stretch is it going to be easy for Turenne to make the final 53-man roster, and basing any odds after one OTA is impossible, but he made some plays. Turenne made a nice move to jump in front of a Caleb Hanie pass intended for Juaquin Iglesias and pick it off. He also had some plays on the ball.

With the long hair coming out of the back of his helmet, he looks like Al Harris running around out there. That can't be a bad thing. Turenne has good size at 6-1, 182 pounds, and he's shown decent speed and most importantly instincts. There are eight cornerbacks on the roster, although that number drops to seven with Corey Graham now at free safety. The Bears are going to kick the tires on veteran Rod Hood, who will be at practice today, a workout closed to media. Adding Hood makes sense because he be a third veteran corner.

Turenne was a junior college transfer and played well at times in school, suffering a broken clavicle at the end of last season. He was not invited to the combine and didn't have a particularly good pro day so that dropped him to the undrafted ranks where the Bears scooped him up as a free agent. The key for him moving forward will be to continue to show up every opportunity he gets. If he can prove to have some worth on special teams, even better.

*** If we didn't mention it Wednesday, looks like the Zack Bowman to safety movement has ended. He was back at left cornerback filling in for Charles Tillman (shoulder). With Graham going to safety it's fair to assume Bowman will remain at cornerback.

*** Here is how the second team offensive line stacked up--LT Cody Balogh, LG Frank Omiyale, C Tyler Reed, RG Dan Buenning, RT Kevin Shaffer. Buenning worked in practice as a backup center for most of the second half of last season. Offensive coordinator Ron Turner has suggested he'll be in position to compete with Roberto Garza at right guard. The Bears have expressed their confidence in Garza however.

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A tip of the cap to the Sun-Times' Kevin Allen, who reached agent Drew Rosenhaus by text message. Rosenhaus denies swirling reports that the next stop for former Bears' first-round draft pick Rex Grossman is the United Football League.

"Rex will be playing in the NFL this season," Rosenhaus said in a text message today. "We have not considered any other leagues. He will be on a NFL roster by the start of training camps."

The UFL has private workouts upcoming for players as it prepares for its inaugural season. Grossman has yet to land with a team and switched to Rosenhaus more than a month ago. Initially, the agent said he expected to land Grossman before the draft. He's been shopping Grossman for the veteran minimum since the get go according to multiple league sources.

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We teased a blog post on backup quarterbacks earlier today when we wrote about Jay Cutler picking up the offense and it didn't take long to receive this e-mail.

It's from Ed. We will leave Ed's last name out of it. As he points out, he didn't want to be shredded by some of the more animated regulars on here.

I have a question regarding your teaser at the bottom of your latest entry, but I wanted to ask you directly so I don't flame the board. Why not bring back a veteran QB who is familiar with this offense? Rex Grossman. Obviously, there wouldn't be a learning curve for picking up this offense. He has game experience under the system. And he might be able to succeed in a limited capacity with a revamped (bigger) offensive line. Plus, the Bears wouldn't need to sign him to a long term deal. Please let me know your thoughts.

Thanks,

Ed

We're pretty sure you're not alone on that one, Ed. In the minority? Perhaps. Alone. No way. We're not going to do any Rex bashing and we never have. We've written it before and I believe it--fans grabbed hold of Grossman and used him as the symbol for everything that was wrong with the position from an organizational standpoint. Ultimately, his demise as a former first-round pick had as much to do with the franchise as anything else.

We've also written before that Grossman should have ventured out in search of a new opportunity a year ago. He waited and now he finds himself without a job. New agent Drew Rosenhaus has been trying to find him work at the veteran minimum for more than a month. There just aren't many jobs available out there right now and it could take an injury this summer or a trip to the United Football League for him to get a chance. Hey, there will be a franchise in Orlando, a hot bed for Gators fans.

I doubt seriously the Bears would consider Rex Part II. Yes, he knows the system. We get all of that. But the book on Grossman effectively closed when Kyle Orton was named the starting quarterback at the end of training camp last summer. You can argue the merits of finding someone with experience--there aren't many quarterbacks still available that have any--and knowledge of your system all day. The Bears deemed Grossman wasn't a fit for them.

Back to our regularly scheduled blog post ... we've detailed what is going on at wide receiver and safety, and will surely do so again soon, but the issue at backup quarterback needs to be answered soon. Should the Bears attempt to locate a veteran quarterback as a backup?

There are pros and cons to it with Caleb Hanie, an undrafted free agent from last season, and Brett Basanez currently behind Cutler on the depth chart. General manager Jerry Angelo and coach Lovie Smith have not ruled out the possibility, but to this point they haven't made a move.

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The Bears will wrap up their three-day rookie minicamp this afternoon at Halas Hall after which the Bears might extend contract offers to a few of the 25 tryout players.

It might be tough for any of the three quarterbacks to get one. It's not so much Jay Cutler that is in their way but an inexperienced depth chart behind the new starter. Northwestern's C.J. Bacher, Missouri's Chase Patton and Florida State's Drew Weatherford have been splitting time. Blocking their way are Caleb Hanie and Brett Basanez. Hanie, the undrafted free agent from last season, has yet to appear in an NFL game. Basanez threw 11 passes in 2006. The Bears might be hesitant to add a third inexperienced passer to their depth chart and they only carried three quarterbacks to training camp last summer. When they took a fourth quarterback--Florida's Chris Leak--to Bourbonnais, Ill., in 2007 he pretty much just stood around. There wasn't enough work to go around.

Patton is battling a lack of experience as well trying to become the next Matt Cassel--a career college backup who hits it big. At 6-5, 220 pounds, he has the kind of size the NFL is looking for and the strongest arm of the bunch. But he played behind Heisman Trophy candidate Chase Daniel and threw only 31 passers over the last two seasons.

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This page is an archive of recent entries in the Caleb Hanie category.

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