Jay Cutler was assessed and paid to be the franchise quarterback of the Bears.
But Cutler, who is having one of his finest preseasons (two TD drives in four possessions, zero sacks, zero interceptions, 73 percent completion percentage, 123.3 passer rating), has not played 16 games in any of the last four seasons. The last two of Bears seasons came down to final tallies where one win by a backup would have put the Bears in the playoffs, and the 2011 season collapsed because of failures by the No. 2.
For that reason, the resolution of the competition for the job of Cutler’s understudy is by definition season-altering in virtually every year. Rarely has there been an actual competition; Josh McCown was the designated No. 2 last season, Jason Campbell the year before, Caleb Hanie before that, Todd Collins going back into 2010.
As well as McCown played last season, the Bears were a combined 3-4 in games where he either started or took over when Cutler was injured.
All of which means that if history is any indicator, the competition between Jimmy Clausen and Jordan Palmer holds major significance for the 2014 Bears.
The program has been to alternate the order of battle by game after Cutler; Palmer then Clausen vs. Philadelphia, Clausen-Palmer vs. Jacksonville, Palmer-Clause in Seattle, and Clausen starting in Cleveland, followed by Palmer in what will be the game performance carrying the most weight in the decision.
Work against the Super Bowl champion defense is a very, very close second.
“I’ve been running this system for the past few weeks and OTA’s so I’m feeling very comfortable,” Palmer said. “It’s all about going through your progressions, getting the ball out of your hands because there’s so many guys who can make plays in this offense.”
Through the first two games, the quarterback who has faced third-strings has had the better production. That will be Clausen on Friday.
But the program effectively places Clausen and Palmer with No. 2’s one week, No. 3’s the next, and on Friday, Palmer could be coming in against some of the Seattle starters.
“It’s definitely difficult,” Clausen said. “You don’t get a lot of reps with some of the guys. Practice time is limited and we’re not in training camp, but you’ve just got to adjust to that. You’ve just got to see when they’re getting out of their breaks, anticipate it and put the ball there for them.”
“All the guys are different. You’ve just got to keep taking the mental reps, watching what this guy does, that guy does.”
What to watch for:
As with every skill position, coaches will assign the most weight to Clausen’s and Palmer’s ability to keep the ball in Chicago hands and to be consistent moving the chains against even the backups on a very good defense. Each quarterback has thrown an interception, although coach Marc Trestman seemed more inclined to excuse Clausen’s vs. Jacksonville because of headset difficulties getting the play in, and it was an acrobatic tip by a Jaguars linebacker that caused it. The decision will go down to week four but players make decisions for coaches and poor throws or decisions can accelerate that process.