- Michael C. Wright, ESPN Staff Writer
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This is the first installment of a 10-part series that reviews every Bears position group on offense and defense, while also taking a quick look at potential free agent targets and the top prospects in the upcoming NFL draft.
Jay Cutler flashed enough development through the first 10 games of the 2011 to merit inclusion into conversations about the NFL’s elite at the position. Then he suffered a fractured thumb that forced him to miss the final six contests, ruining what seemed to be a promising season.
If anything, Cutler’s injury taught the Chicago Bears the value of keeping a capable No. 2 on standby, considering the team lost five of six down the stretch.
With the team set for the future with Cutler at the helm as the starter, the Bears face a couple of interesting dilemmas this offseason with backups such as Josh McCown and Caleb Hanie set to go into unrestricted free agency.
In addition, new general manager Phil Emery must also determine whether rising second-year player Nathan Enderle fits into the offense the team will utilize under new coordinator Mike Tice, while figuring out whether the quarterback possesses enough upside to warrant a roster spot for 2012 as a developmental prospect.
THE CURRENT ROSTER
Jay Cutler: Cutler averaged 229.1 yards passing, which ranks as the third-best single-season mark in franchise history, and his passer rating of 85.7 registered as seventh in franchise annals.
Prior to Cutler’s thumb injury, the club ranked sixth in scoring (26.8 points per game), and it seemed the quarterback -- at the time of the injury -- was playing his best football as a Chicago Bear. There’s concern about how Cutler will perform in 2012 playing for his third offensive coordinator in four seasons.
But Tice has been clear about his intentions of catering the offense to fit Cutler’s talents. So the transition should be smooth. Look for the new offense to feature the ability to audible, in addition to several plays with moving pockets to take advantage of Cutler’s mobility.
Caleb Hanie: Following a promising showing in the 2010 NFC title game with a few shaky performances when given the opportunity to start in relief of Cutler. In four starts, Hanie tossed nine interceptions, and finished the season with a passer rating of 41.8.
Those showings, coupled with the fact he’s a free agent might mean Hanie won’t remain with the team in 2012. But don’t be so fast to make that assumption. Hanie wasn’t an ideal fit for Mike Martz’s offense, but what Tice plans to implement actually caters to what the quarterback does well.
The club likely won’t ever trust Hanie again as the No. 2. But there’s a small chance he sticks as the third quarterback.
Josh McCown: Played well enough to warrant consideration as the No. 2 behind Cutler in 2012. But the club would be doing itself a disservice if it doesn’t bring in competition from outside for the job.
McCown completed 63.6 percent of his passes in the three games he played (two starts), and showed plenty of poise in the pocket as well as an ability to make things happen with his legs when things break down. It’s likely the Bears will extend McCown an offer to return, but the club could have some competition from other teams based on the way the quarterback performed late in the season.
Nathan Enderle: Inactive for 14 of the team’s 16 games, Enderle never received an opportunity to play even when Hanie struggled to fill in for Cutler because the coaching staff deemed the rookie unready.
For a brief period during training camp, Enderle moved ahead of Hanie on the depth chart. But Enderle didn’t develop enough -- because of limited repetitions -- to become a realistic option as a backup.
Handpicked by Martz because he possessed the traits to thrive in that pass-oriented system, Enderle may no longer be considered an ideal fit for what the Bears plan to do with Tice as the offensive coordinator.
Bears free agents: Hanie, McCown
POTENTIAL FREE AGENT TARGETS
David Garrard, unrestricted
WHY GARRARD MIGHT MAKE SENSE
Unlike Orton and Campbell, Garrard likely won’t be expensive, and he won’t enter a new situation looking to win the starting job. Besides that, Tice is familiar with Garrard from their time spent together with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Garrard, 34, has started 76 career games, with a career completion percentage of 61.6 and a passer rating of 85.8. A 10-year veteran, Garrard has thrown just 54 interceptions in 2,281 attempts. Physically, Garrard possesses many of the traits (strong arm, good mobility, and toughness) that would make him an ideal fit for Tice’s offense.