Bears backup QB Hanie has Cutler's back

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Bears backup QB Hanie has Cutler's back

Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2011
10:32 a.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

Caleb Hanie spent the week leading up to the Green Bay game playing the role of Aaron Rodgers, running the scout team as he has since the mid-season off week.

He was in the role of defense attorney on Tuesday for Jay Cutler and he played it very, very well. Not that Cutler needs it, but his backup has his back.

In a phone interview on The Dan Patrick Show Hanie disputed any notion that Patrick himself had been pounding all morning, that Cutler wasnt involved enough after being taken out of the game. One TV shot showed Cutler sitting on the bench, in his Bears cape, uninterested and uninvolved.

No, that wasnt the case, Hanie said. Ive seen the shot on TV but that was just one five-second clip. He talked to me a lot coming off the field to calm me down, told me to trust my line, trust my reads and just go play and use your feet if you have to.

Didinger: Cutler doesn't deserve all the criticism

He did a great job doing that for me. I thought he was well into the game. I asked him a question at one point on the cards or pictures and he gave his input, told me the blitzes they were bringing and coverages they were running.

As far as Cutler not being right next to Hanie all the time, I think he was just trying to give me time when we were sitting on the bench, time to digest everything, then talk to me after, Hanie said.

Hanie was direct on one hypothetical: Had the Bears won the game, Cutler would have played in the Super Bowl, he said.

And as far as the NFC Championship, If he couldve played, he wouldve played, Hanie said. I was surprised because hes been getting hit all season but never seems to get hurt... Hes one of the toughest guys on our team...

One thing I know about him: Hes going to sell out for his teammates, no matter what. He cares about his teammates more than anyone else out there. If he could have played effectively, he would have been in there for sure.

Hes not a quitter. The kind of stuff other players via Twitter and elsewhere were saying, thats what aggravates the guys in our locker room. Because we know hes not a quitter.

Identity crises

Hanie wasnt sure the Packers knew his name when he came into the game. They probably didnt, he said. They were telling me I played good afterwards. They were good about that.

READ: Cutler vs. the Media - Day 2

What some people couldnt understand was how Hanie didnt see B.J. Raji before he threw a pass directly to the massive nose tackle. Someone was saying, How did you not see the guy? Hes 400 pounds. I said, Well, hes hiding behind the other 400-pound guy.

Youre kidding, right?

Patrick said hed rather have seen Cutler at least standing up on the sidelines rather than sitting on the bench. Just guessing here, but would the knock then have been that the guy was OK enough to stand, so...

This was all kind of interesting, and not restricted to Dan Patrick by any means. It has the feel that now that it is clear that Cutler has a knee injury, a torn ligament, some people need to do some fast face-saving or CYAing. Rather than acknowledge that Cutler bashing over the injury was off, people are taking off now after Cutlers demeanor.

Based on the isolated snippets of TV shots showing a morose Cutler on the bench, Patrick declared, This is the biggest game of his life... Hes guilty of indifference... Thats his crime, to me.

Wow. Now not only readings in body language, but mind-reading and character analysis?

OK, so, what, now the crime has shifted to not being sufficiently or visibly crushed? And crime? Dan does need to get out more. But thats seriously, seriously stupid. And Patrick is a fellow University of Dayton alum.
Stuckmeyer: Putting 'toughness in perspective

Maybe having had the pleasure of doing Mondays Chicago Tribune Live on Comcast SportsNet with two-time Super Bowl winner Howard Griffith is an advantage here. Howard had the same injury and was blunt; no way could someone go back in an NFL game with that injury.

Somehow, though, people cant let go of the toughness crap. A caller brought up Brett Favre and how youd have to drag him off the field. Patrick mentioned that Ben Roethlisberger played with a broken nose.

You can play with a broken nose. You can win heavyweight boxing championships with a broken nose. Comparing a broken nose and a torn knee ligament? No, Dan really needs to get out more.

A voice of reason

To his credit, Tony Dungy, who faced similar situations during his time coaching the Indianapolis Colts, even in the Super Bowl against the Bears, was blunt, but I dont think it was at all the direction Patrick was expecting.

Dungy immediately went right at critics, particularly among the ranks of players as well as people who clearly didnt know the situation at the time: I think its ridiculous... Im just really, really surprised.

DPs yeah, but was back at the appearance of indifference. But Dungy wasnt buying that either. Colts receiver Marvin Harrison was a similarly undemonstrative individual on the sidelines, which didnt bother Dungy because Harrisons play was anything but indifferent.

Dungy said it all: People like you, DP, although Dungy didnt say it are wanting Jay Cutler to act a different way than he is and basically be something they want him to be.

Well said. If youre pre-disposed to dislike someone, for whatever reason, pretty much whatever that person does will confirm the baseline feeling. Hey, no one likes admitting they were wrong.

Correcting

Dan brought up Scottie Pippen the other day when I was on the show, Pippen as an example of someone who never got past the stigma of having migraines in playoffs. Pippen was part of enough championships (as Tonto to Jordans Lone Ranger) that the migraine issue was put in the past. Terrell Davis issues with that problem helped.

What wasnt was Pippens refusal to go in the game with 1.4 sec. remaining in a playoff game vs. the Knicks, because Pippen was hearing that he wasnt the No. 1 option on the play after the timeout. That, not migraines, is the stigma that Pippen carries.

Odd

Bears safety Chris Harris wasnt voted onto the NFC Pro Bowl roster. But he, along with linebacker Brian Urlacher, was named a second-team All-Pro. Go figure.

Easier to figure the Bears first-teamers: defensive end Julius Peppers and Devin Hester (as a returner, not a receiver). The Bears and Atlanta Falcons were the only NFC teams with two players named to the team.

Definitely not-odd

Defensive end Israel Idonije is one of the three finalists, along with Oakland Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha and Madieu Williams of the Minnesota Vikings, for the prestigious Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award. The winner will be announced prior to the Super Bowl on Feb. 6.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

Are Bears better than Texans, Broncos, Dolphins and others? Pro Football Focus says yes

Are Bears better than Texans, Broncos, Dolphins and others? Pro Football Focus says yes

Pro Football Focus has more than its share of both supporters and detractors of how it goes about grading NFL players. They break down every snap for every player, and while there are general agreements on what's seen by naked, untrained eyes who don't put the time and investment into its system that PFF does, there are other evaluations that seem to come out of the blue. While there's occasional guesswork on a player's particular assignment on a given play within its scheme, those of us who've watched and studied nuances of the game, or those who've played it, can usually identify how many jobs were done correctly.

Tuesday, PFF released its rankings of all 32 NFL rosters but in essence focused on the quality of each team's starting lineup, listing the Bears — are you sitting down? — 18th in the league. That's ahead of the likes of the Ravens, Saints, Texans, Dolphins, a Jaguars franchise that's had tons of high draft picks in recent years, as well as the Broncos and Lions (whom they rank 28th). The top five are the Falcons, Patriots, Titans, Packers and Steelers (the Bears play three of those teams in September alone). Among other Bears opponents, they rank the Panthers 10th, Vikings 12th, Buccaneers 13th and Eagles 15th.

[BEARS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

Their evaluation is based on each player's final score from last season, "elite" and "good" being the top two levels, followed by "average" and "below average" to "poor." The only Bear earning elite status was inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman. Another nine Bears finished with good grades: Jordan Howard, Zach Miller, Josh Sitton, Cody Whitehair, Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Danny Trevathan, Adrian Amos and Quintin Demps (who earned his grade in Houston).

Those earning average grades were Cam Meredith, Kendall Wright, Kyle Long, Charles Leno, Jr., Pernell McPhee and Prince Amukamara. Below average: Mike Glennon (in mop-up duty in Tampa Bay), Kevin White, Bobby Massie, Leonard Floyd and Jaye Howard. The only Bear earning a poor grade among projected starters was tight end Dion Sims (with Miami). The other potential flaw is that PFF lists Kyle Fuller (no grade) and Bryce Callahan (average) as starters when Marcus Cooper and Cre'Von LeBlanc likely have the inside track to start at cornerback and nickel back, respectively.

How did the Bears get to 18th, above three playoff teams and another that won the Super Bowl two years ago? Well, all of those other teams have more elite players at certain positions, but it's offset by a number of spots occupied by more players with poor or below average grades. The Broncos (25th) for instance, had four elite players, just another four falling under the good grade, but five players listed as poor.

Jordan Howard wants to lead Bears... and lead the league

Jordan Howard wants to lead Bears... and lead the league

So Jordan Howard finished second in the NFL in rushing in his rookie season, despite just a dozen carries in the first three games. The fifth-round pick joined the man who beat him out for the rushing title, Ezekiel Elliott, as one of just five rookies in history to average five or more yards per carry on over 250 carries. And he set the Bears' rookie rushing record with his 1,313 yards while becoming just the fourth in franchise history to rush for that many yards in a season.

Sounds pretty hard to top, like we might be set up for the dreaded sophomore slump.

But...

"Things are a lot different this year because I know what to expect," Howard said during the team's minicamp two weeks ago. "I know all the plays and things like that. I’m not out there thinking, so I can just play free and fast.

"I definitely feel like a veteran 'cause I know what to expect and can help the young guys on the plays that they're not understanding. I’m just more comfortable and want to be a leader."

One of the other things we learned about Howard last year is he's low-key, a man of few words. So the Indiana product by way of UAB will make his points verbally when needed, but his actions will speak louder.

"He was a rookie a year ago and didn't even go in trying to be a leader, telling a five-year guy what was up," said head coach John Fox. "I think with time, and obviously with production like he had, I think it's a role he can fall in to. We're in a performance-based business and even in that locker room, what they do on Sundays gives them some credibility."

One of the concerns about Howard coming out of college was durability, but he answered the bell once he became the starter in week four against Detroit. And he probably wasn't used nearly as much as he should have. The good news about that is he was subject to less wear and tear, averaging just 18 carries per game from that Lions game on.

But besides taking more of a leadership role, Howard wanted to work on his speed without sacrificing the strong base that, paired with keen vision and work by the offensive line, allowed him to hit holes quickly and charge toward the second level of opposing defenses.

"Just improving on the little things – my conditioning, my weight, catching passes. And looking for ways to finish runs better," says Howard. "I feel like I’m in much better shape than I was at this time last year, a little more toned-up."

"It's just training," said Fox. "When you get to that it's more like track speed than football speed and I think he proved pretty worthy of that a year ago as a rookie. Y'know we all can improve on things, and that's the expectation. He's trained hard.

"This time of year last year he wasn’t even practicing," Fox remembered. "I like where we are, we’ve brought in more competition, and he’s better for it. He’s kind of gotten used to an NFL season, he’s come back ready to roll, but he still has work to do before we get to training camp."  

Oh, and the 22-year-old has a couple of other goals he didn't mind sharing, besides being a leader and getting a little faster.

"First off, make the playoffs. Be the leading rusher, and just help the team in any way I can and stay consistent."