Szwaja's Sports Blog

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

The scene: Kyle Orton, thanks in large part to that rocket launcher attached to the right side of his body, leads the Chicago Bears to a comeback victory over the Miami Dolphins on Monday Night Football. After the game, Orton and speedy and strong receiver Mark Bradley flank Michelle Tafoya for an interview. Tafoya seems amazed by their respective performances, while Orton and Bradley grin between their answers as if they own Chicago. And after their efforts on this Monday night, they might as well own Chicago. Bears fans haven't seen an offense like that in a long time. The visions of John Shoop and Terry Shea (and even Gary Crowton) have stopped dancing in their heads, and Bears fans now rejoice at the sight of Ron Turner's offense.

So, I left a few things out. Yes, it was in fact Monday Night Football, but the game didn't count. Yes, Shoop, Shea and Crowton are long gone, and yes, Turner's offense actually looked like an NFL offense. But it was only one game into Turner's second go around as an NFL offensive coordinator. Yes, Orton led the Bears to victory, but he did it against third string defenders, some of whom didn't have "the motor needed to play in the NFL," said John Madden. And ohh yeah, Orton is third on the depth chart behind Rex Grossman and Chad "Hut, Hut" Hutchinson. Yes, Bradley had five catches for 131 yards, he stiff-armed corners like he was Jerry Rice going down the sideline and he looked like he belonged, but he's still a project player who only had 23 receptions during his college career at Oklahoma.

Still, despite all this, Monday night's preseason week one performance had to be refreshing for Bears fans. If nothing else, it proved that there is hope. For me, call me crazy, it was something more. In Orton, I saw the makings of a future pro starter. I know as well as anyone else seeing a quarterback throw a football on TV is completely different from seeing it in person, but Orton's ball appeared to be strong, tight and accurate to this TV viewer. The interception was a mistake, a rookie mistake. The play wasn't there, and Orton tried to be a hero instead of rolling out of the pocket and finding a fan in the third row. As a student at the University of Illinois, I saw Orton play at Purdue for three years. And as a Bears fan, I saw him play for one game. Still, I'll say this: by 2007, Orton will be the regular starter.

Let that settle in...

Okay, now let me say this. I like Grossman a lot. I remember sitting in Bourbonnais last year in awe of his arm strength. I think he's smart and has that cocky attitude good quarterbacks need --- but not over-the-top cocky a la Cade McNown. Still, he's small. Really small. Not many quarterbacks his size have staying power. I can't think of one in the NFL right now actually. JP Lossman isn't huge, but what has he done? Same goes for Patrick Ramsey. And we have to be concerned about Grossman's health. Granted, both his injuries have been of the freak variety. He tore some ligaments in his thumb when he hit a helmet with his hand, and then there was the ACL. The thumb injury, how much did that have to do with his lack of height? As someone who has torn his ACL, I know sometimes it doesn't take much for it to happen, but I also remember my doctor telling me I "have weird knees." Who knows? Maybe Grossman has "weird knees."

Back to Orton, he's every bit of the 6'4'' he is listed at, and the ball leaves his hand without much wasted motion. And he's tough. He played practically his entire senior season at Purdue while injured. Had he been healthy, Orton would have been the second quarterback taken in the draft. Maybe Bears fans should be thankful he wasn't healthy. He could be waiting in the wings of Lambeau behind Brett Favre right now.

As for Bradley, his Hall of Fame game performance was nice, but I keep going back to his college career ... or lack there of. I'm not going to be sold on Bradley until he consistently proves himself. I'm talking about half a season or more, because the way I see it now, Bradley's going to give you a nice play here and there, maybe even a nice game or two, but will disappear for weeks at a time. Still, it's hard to ignore what he did against the Dolphins. Real game or not, Bradley looked like he had "it." For the love of Bears fans, I hope he proves me wrong right away and plays like a second round sleeper in an Anquan Boldin kind of way. What a compliment to Mushin Muhammad that would be.

Yet, with all the doubts still looming over the Bears, it's not hard to imagine Orton and Bradley doing a Michelle Tafoya "what a game, guys!" interview on a cold November night after a Monday Night Football game with serious playoff implications, is it?


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