Commentary

Time to step up

Bears' Jason Campbell getting chance to show he's more than just a backup

Updated: November 16, 2012, 11:19 PM ET
By Melissa Isaacson | ESPNChicago.com

Jason Campbell is not a bitter guy. He says it wouldn't do any good anyway. But there was an unmistakable edge in his voice last August in Bourbonnais, Ill., when the Chicago Bears quarterback was talking about the broken collarbone that ended his season last year and, as it turned out, his career with the Oakland Raiders.

"It was a bone, not anything affecting my throwing motion," Campbell explained.

He had led the Raiders to a 4-2 start, but in a panic move after the injury, the Raiders traded a first-round pick (in 2012) and second-round pick (in '13) to the Cincinnati Bengals for quarterback Carson Palmer. Oakland ended up finishing the season 8-8 and out of the playoffs.

[+] EnlargeJason Campbell
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastBears quarterback Jason Campbell, who is in his eighth year in the league, has a record of 31-39.

"It's crazy sometimes that this is your eighth year and you still feel like you have to prove yourself," Campbell said this summer. Campbell can talk all he wants about not wanting to let his teammates down as he steps in for the injured Jay Cutler this Monday night on the road against the San Francisco 49ers. And there's no reason to doubt him. But the biggest motivator for Campbell is the biggest one in sports.

He wants to prove to the Raiders, the Washington Redskins before them and the rest of the league that he's still a starting quarterback.

Nothing wrong with that. Again, proving people wrong is the biggest motivator in sports. The Bears were not looking for a company guy or a team leader or a good golfer when they acquired Campbell on the first day of free agency last spring and paid him $3.5 million for one year. After the firing of former general manager Jerry Angelo in part because of the team's inadequacies at quarterback behind Cutler, the Bears needed someone who could actually step in and help the team win more than lose in an emergency situation.

Caleb Hanie, who went 0-4 after replacing Cutler, obviously could not do that. Campbell, a starter for most of his career, though below .500 overall at 31-39, gives the Bears a fighting chance.

Will he be able to go to San Francisco next Monday and march the Bears' offense up and down the field, something Cutler has not done with any real consistency this season? The odds are not with him. But should Cutler miss any more games -- and his status is, not surprisingly, a complete mystery to those outside Halas Hall -- Campbell is still one of the best options out there.

Though he did not earn raves last week against the Houston Texans when he took over in the second half, completing 11 of 19 passes for 94 yards and a passer rating of 70.9 as the Bears' offense managed just a field goal, Campbell did show a certain amount of discipline. Yeah, he was more conservative than not (though remember, that long completion to Brandon Marshall was off an audible). And what else did you expect from a guy who had not played a regular-season game in more than a year and was coming in off limited practice reps?

At least the Bears managed to hang on to the ball after four turnovers in the first half (again, see: Hanie).

"When you look at what happened to the Bears last year, that's the reason he's here," Marshall said of Campbell Friday. "He's more than capable and we're fortunate to have a starting quarterback as our backup."

Yes, the Bears need more than just a game manager if they are to win under Campbell. But if nothing else, you can count on him not to panic under pressure. He said playing that second half against Texas was "really huge."

"You've just got to play your game because everyone knows if you haven't played in a while, of course you're not going to be up here like a Peyton Manning," he said. "You have to do what you do and do it to the best of your ability. Jay is good at what he does and I'm good for different reasons."

Asked the difference between Cutler and Campbell, Marshall cracked, "Jason's black and Jay's white."

More to the point, Marshall said, "You think Jason is like Michael Vick but it's the opposite. [Cutler] likes to run around sometimes ... You think by the picture we paint of black quarterbacks that guys are supposed to run around a lot, but Jason takes control offensively and we're fortunate to have him."

Campbell characterizes himself and Cutler as both having "big arms and we both move around a little bit ... We're different in certain things we do, how we see things. At the same time, we're both pretty athletic."

Unfortunately, only one is available at the moment. At least this season, you shouldn't have to shield your eyes to watch him.

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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