Musick: Bears' menu features can of worms
LAKE FOREST – Welcome to Crabby & Grumpy, your No. 1 choice for sports talk in Chicago.
Today, we’re discussing Jay Cutler vs. Josh McCown. Who should start? Who should sit?
Go ahead, caller. You’re on the air.
“In my opinion, [McCown] should be the guy. He should be the starting quarterback for the Bears, even if Jay Cutler is healthy.”
“You can’t take a guy who is this hot out of a football game. If I was on that team, I’d have a hard time taking him out.”
It would be one thing if these words were stated by Stu from Woodstock or Harry from Harvard. But they came from someone else – let’s call him Brian from New Mexico – who played 13 seasons for the Bears and is a shoo-in for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
And Brian Urlacher did not endorse McCown during an afternoon show on a local station. He did so on national TV this week as an analyst on “Fox Football Daily.”
Even in retirement, Urlacher can pressure a quarterback.
The Bears have a hot-button issue on their hands regardless of whether they want to acknowledge it. On Thursday, coach Marc Trestman is expected to announce whether McCown or Cutler will start Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns.
Most signs point to Cutler, so long as he performed well and did not endure any setbacks in a private workout Wednesday in front of coaches and medical staff. If Cutler does return from a high-ankle sprain that has sidelined him for four-plus games, it would mean McCown would return to his original role as the Bears’ backup quarterback.
The same McCown who set a franchise record Monday against the Dallas Cowboys with his third consecutive 300-yard passing game.
The same McCown who was named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week on Wednesday, making him the first Bears player to earn the distinction in 2013.
The same McCown who has thrown 13 touchdowns with only one interception.
Yep, that McCown.
Don’t get me wrong. Cutler represents the Bears’ best option at quarterback as long as he is 100 percent healthy. Not 90 percent, not 95 percent, not 99 percent, but 100 percent.
Because when Cutler is fully healthy and playing his best, he can make any throw on the field and elude almost any type of pressure in the pocket. He won four of six starts before suffering groin and ankle injuries, and he has a firm grasp of Trestman’s offense.
Besides, the Bears could use the final three games to help evaluate Cutler before deciding whether to retain him as a free agent or let him hit the open market this spring.
However, those entrenched in Camp McCown have a strong argument.
Until this week, the Bears’ quarterback debate served as good fodder for fans and media types who wanted to fill the space between last week’s final play and next week’s kickoff. While we yapped, Trestman, McCown and everyone else on the Bears maintained that Cutler would remain the clear-cut No. 1 starter once doctors cleared him to play.
But something changed when Urlacher went on the record to endorse McCown over Cutler. Suddenly, it seemed possible that other Bears players privately felt the same way.
It’s no secret that Urlacher was the face of the franchise and one of the most powerful voices in the locker room from 2000 to 2012. It’s no secret that Urlacher remains good friends with more than a few former teammates, starting with fellow linebacker Lance Briggs.
On Thanksgiving Day, Bears linebacker Blake Costanzo wore a No. 54 Urlacher jersey through the locker room at Halas Hall. He posted a picture on his Twitter account along with the following message: “Giving thanks to Urlacher at this practice.”
Remember that if you hear Bears players try to tell you that Urlacher’s thoughts about Cutler and McCown don’t really matter to them. It’s hard to tune out someone whose message you have respected and followed for so many years.
One thing is certain.
If McCown returns to the bench this week, he will not make a fuss. McCown’s humility is genuine, and his coaches appreciate his support for Cutler as the starter when healthy.
“Josh has done exactly what we’ve asked him to do,” Trestman said. “He’s performed very, very well as a backup, and he understands his role. We’ve got a very close quarterback room.”
Does the same hold true for the rest of the team?
• Shaw Media sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @tcmusick.