Commentary

Finally, a backup who's got their back

Jason Campbell provides the Bears the perfect insurance behind Jay Cutler

Updated: August 10, 2012, 3:24 AM ET
By Melissa Isaacson | ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- The words "Chicago Bears quarterback" and "depth" are not normally seen in the same sentence unless "lack of" is in there too.

So we can disregard, for now, the paltry 13 yards on 4 of 5 completions that Jason Campbell racked up in three series of the Bears' first preseason game Thursday night at Soldier Field.

So astounding is it that for the first time, well, ever, that the Bears have a solid backup quarterback behind a potentially exceptional starter, you're almost skeptical.

The Bears are merely grateful.

Starting in place of Jay Cutler, who was suited up and on the sideline but perhaps too distracted with thoughts of his day-old son for Lovie Smith to take a chance on him losing focus on the wet turf, Campbell didn't do much in a 31-3 loss to the Denver Broncos. But he looks the part more than any of his recent predecessors, including Caleb Hanie, who drew loud boos from Bears fans with his every move as Peyton Manning's backup for the Broncos.

Of course, no one with any interest in seeing the Bears do well wants to think about the prospect of Campbell being pressed into service this season. But if he does, there is no reason to believe he will wilt under the pressure as Hanie and so many others before him have done.

[+] EnlargeJason Campbell
Mike DiNovo/US PresswireJason Campbell started at quarterback for the Bears on Thursday, completing 4 of 5 passes for 13 yards.

Campbell, 30, who Raiders owner Al Davis once likened to two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback Jim Plunkett, has had a tendency to hold the ball too long and he did that in absorbing a sack on the Bears' second series Thursday. Go figure, J'Marcus Webb wasn't even to blame.

"One thing about it, we never could find a rhythm," Campbell said. "We couldn't get a first down, so we could get ourselves going and get some motivation going. It's kind of tough when you're three-and-out. … It wasn't a showing we'd like to have but we'll continue to grow, continue to move forward."

Considering Campbell was seeing his first action since fracturing his collarbone 10 months ago, it certainly should not dampen anyone's optimism.

"We have two guys on our team capable of starting right now in the National Football League," Smith said in Bourbonnais this week, practically giddy about a player he loved out of Auburn seven years ago.

The Washington Redskins beat the Bears to Campbell with the 25th pick of the first round in 2005, but Smith didn't forget him. And while Campbell would have preferred his career to this point to have gone differently, he's happy to have ended up in Chicago.

"There's a lot of teams out there where I wish I could have been competing for a starting job somewhere, but coming off an injury and off the situation that I was in, and a team pursuing you as hard as they were in free agency and not knowing what's really going to happen and waiting around, I went ahead and made what I thought was the best decision for me and I'm glad I'm here," Campbell said.

"I can relax just for the simple fact that I'm coming to a team with a head coach here for nine years and there's so much stability here. And when you look top to bottom, there are so many veterans on this team, it brings so much leadership, guys are established and it's an easier transition for me."

Campbell was obviously not talking about Thursday, when Cutler, Matt Forte, Brian Urlacher and Julius Peppers all sat out. But after a career in which he has been bounced around, overlooked and underappreciated, Campbell brings the experience of the most weathered of veterans.

Campbell was 20-32 as a starter behind some weak offensive lines in Washington, leading the Redskins to eight victories in 2010 after seven straight losing seasons. But when Mike Shanahan was hired, Campbell was no longer wanted and sought permission for a trade.

He was 11-7 for the Raiders, leading them to a 4-2 start before fracturing his collarbone in Week 6. His replacement, Carson Palmer, finished the season 4-5 but with the investment in Palmer and Campbell's contract expiring, his fate was sealed once again.

Enter the Bears, who took advantage of the fact that Campbell got lost in the Manning frenzy. The offshoot? Mike Tice is Campbell's sixth offensive coordinator in the NFL and Smith, his fifth head coach.

"It's actually a positive because although I had no idea I'd be going through so much change, it has prepared me for what I'm going through coming here, learning a new offense all over again," Campbell said. "It's something I'm used to, so you maybe learn a little bit quicker than it would normally take."

As for any residual bitterness, it's just not there.

"The reason I don't get bitter or anything is that I just trust in God and it wouldn't do me any good to be bitter," Campbell. "It would only affect me moving forward, in life and in my career. If you stay harping on the past too long, you won't be able to move forward. …

"Whatever role presents itself for me this year, whether I get the chance to play or whether I don't, I want to make sure I do whatever I can possibly do within that role. At the end of the season, you just hope for the best, whether it's here or whether it's somewhere else, we'll see."

After Hanie went 0-4 as the Bears starter following Cutler's thumb injury and the Bears fell out of playoff contention despite a gallant effort by Josh McCown in relief of Hanie, it was clearer than ever that even a franchise quarterback doesn't mean much if you lack a competent backup.

Campbell knew he had to prove himself this preseason, even though he wasn't sure why.

"It was a bone, not anything affecting my throwing motion," he said of the collarbone. "I felt good coming into training camp throwing the ball. But it's crazy sometimes. This is your [seventh] year and you still feel like you have to prove yourself sometimes, but that's just the nature of the business and I try to stay positive."

From Smith's perspective, that's exactly what he sees.

"You want guys like that," the Bears coach said. "The true veteran good football players come in every year like they have to prove themselves. But Jason has been everything and more. … Sometimes it's hard coming into a new environment when you've been a starting quarterback and been to different places, accepting your role. But Jason has come in, 'What can I do coach to help?' a smile on his face every day. The quarterback room, they all get along and Jason has blended right in.

"He has been everything we want him to be."

Melissa Isaacson

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for espnW.com, ESPN Chicago and ESPN.com. The award-winning writer has covered Chicago sports for most of her 31-year career, including at the Chicago Tribune before joining ESPN in 2009. Isaacson has also covered tennis since 1986.

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