The most popular player in Bears town has not infrequently been the backup quarterback. The “anything has to be better than this” attitude toward faltering starters has been a staple in some lean seasons.
But almost as soon as the Bears signed him days ahead of free agency opening, the prospect of Jordan Palmer being a play away from getting the Bears past a Jay Cutler injury was met with doubt, skepticism and a touch of “anything has to be better than him.”
He gets the skepticism; he hasn’t thrown an NFL pass since 2010, and even his exceptional performance in the fourth preseason game last year could be dismissed because of being against Cleveland Browns scrubs.
But Josh McCown wasn’t JOSH McCOWN before last year, throwing a combined total of six passes (completing one) in four of the six years before 2013 and being sent packing by Arizona, Detroit and Oakland teams that went 5-11, 3-13 and 4-12, respectively. The 2011 Bears turned to Caleb Hanie before McCown and the 2012 Bears cut him at the end of preseason in favor of Jason Campbell.
Notably perhaps, McCown’s career exploded last year with a quarterback-friendly coaching staff, the same one that Palmer spent the final nine weeks with last season and the same one that decided Palmer could be their No. 2, subject to staving off competition from draftee David Fales and practice squader Jerrod Johnson.
And Palmer impressed Marc Trestman, Aaron Kromer and Matt Cavanaugh enough without any 2012 offseason prep work.
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“I didn’t show up til the third preseason so I missed all the foundational stuff,” Palmer said. “This is why we call it this. This is how we get lined up. I just kind of prepared for games. It was great to be able to be here from Day 1. I took as many notes as anybody, as any of the new guys. I’m just trying to get myself prepared and be able contribute on a team that’s pushing for championship.”
Cavanaugh won two Super Bowl rings as a backup to Joe Montana in San Francisco and Jeff Hostetler in New York besides serving as offensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens when they won a Super Bowl with Trent Dilfer.
“There’s so much value to come from him,” Palmer said. “He brings so much to the room that I just kind of end up sitting there and listening. I take anything he says as the truth, so to isolate one thing that he brings is tough. He’s a pro, he’s a guy’s guy. He’s one of the best I’ve been around.”
What Palmer picked up last season was more than an introduction to the offense and its concepts. It was a time for both learning how the Bears’ quarterback room works, in particular the relationship between Cutler and his No. 1 understudy.
While Cutler does not make personnel decisions, his thoughts on Palmer the quarterback and Palmer the guy were factored into the Bears’ decision process on Palmer.
“Any experience is good experience and so last year to be able to be here and for us to make a run at the end and watch Jay play at a really high level, watch Josh play at a really high level and sit and learn and be a sponge,” Palmer said. “It was huge to be able to put me in a position to compete and complete balls.
“Josh and Jay’s relationship was so strong and they were helping each other, so much there wasn’t a need for me to weigh in on much at all. I was really just there to learn and help...So here I am in the offseason just the same thing, trying to the serve the guys and move the team.”