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|Rex Grossman has an opportunity to salvage his reputation and move to the top of a relatively weak list of pending free-agent quarterbacks.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
Rex Grossman was deeply disappointed and a bit defiant in the days after learning he had lost the Chicago Bears' two-man quarterback competition this summer. Finally, he encapsulated his thoughts into a succinct turn of phrase.
"It's something I have to deal with right now," Grossman said in August. "But I'm going to make sure I do whatever I need to do ... to make sure I'm a great player in this league. My personal goals haven't changed. My role in the immediate future has changed, but my outlook hasn't changed at all."
As of now, there aren't many NFL people who believe Grossman can be a great player. Some aren't sure how many job offers he'll get after his contract expires at the end of the season. But Kyle Orton's sprained ankle has given Grossman a fortuitous opportunity to resurrect his reputation and move to the top of a relatively weak list of pending free agents at his position.
If he can help the Bears maintain their first-place status during Orton's absence, Grossman might get a chance to compete for a starting job with another team in 2009. If he carries over the mistake-prone habits that cost him the starting job, however, Grossman could have a hard time finding work.
It's a unique and potentially awkward situation for any quarterback, let alone one with Grossman's winding history. Orton seems to have established himself as the Bears' long-term answer, squeezing out Grossman from a job he always believed was his. Grossman admitted this summer he would never fully get over the decision, but now the Bears need him -- and he needs this opportunity.
"I always thought that, odds are, I was going to play a little bit," Grossman said. "So we'll see what happens. I never figured that I wasn't going to play at all. Odds are that at least two quarterbacks are going to play some. Especially here in Chicago."
The big question this week is how much the Bears will trust Grossman with the changed dynamics of their offense. Over the past six weeks, offensive coordinator Ron Turner has delegated to Orton an increasing amount of on-field responsibility. Most notably, Orton is calling his own plays during the Bears' liberal use of the no-huddle offense.
It would be easy to suggest that Grossman's helter-skelter playing style might not lend itself to such a high level of decision-making. Grossman, however, said Sunday that the no-huddle will be "the easiest part" of his readjustment.
"You're calling your own plays," Grossman said. "You think of the play. You call it out. You know exactly why you're calling it and what you like. The defense usually goes to some sort of vanilla defense because they can't huddle. They have to talk to each other from 10, 20 yards away. It's fast-paced. So I like it quite a bit."
Bears coach Lovie Smith said Monday the Bears would "run our offense" with Grossman and pointed out that "he's been in every possible situation." Against Detroit on Sunday, however, the Bears clearly pulled back.
Chicago ran 16 passing plays while calling nine runs before Orton suffered his injury late in the first half. In the second half with Grossman, that ratio closed to 20 passing plays against 18 runs even as the Bears were in catch-up mode from a 10-point deficit.
Smith has somewhat stubbornly insisted all season that the Bears' first choice is to run the ball, even as Orton has blossomed into a Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback. But Orton's injury, combined with Grossman's inconsistent history, makes it likely Chicago will fall back to a more basic attack.
"Offensively we're a running team," Smith said. "We say we get off the bus running the football. In the end, that's what was able to help us win the football game [Sunday], being able to get our running game going. ... Passing-game-wise, in the first half we did some good things. But in the end you want to rely on what you do best."
In some ways, Grossman should benefit from far lower expectations than the ones he carried as a first-round draft pick and franchise quarterback. In his new role, the Bears will ask Grossman to do nothing more but manage a run-oriented offense and maintain the team's first-place position until its established leader returns.
Grossman won't be asked to carry the team or lead the locker room, and no one is expecting miracles during a stretch of games that includes Sunday's matchup against unbeaten Tennessee and a Nov. 16 game at Green Bay. With Matt Forte and backup tailback Kevin Jones likely grinding it out behind him, anything approaching average or beyond will be considered an impressive performance.
And if Grossman can squeeze in a couple of the s
pecial passes he has thrown over the years, the type that teased Smith and the rest of the Bears organization for so long, then he will have made his name relevant in a free-agent market that had all but forgotten about him. He might not get the chance to prove he's a great player, but he would have his pick of teams and could choose the one that gives him the best chance to move into a prominent role. What a turnaround that would be.