Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

28 Aug 2005

Orton Named Bears Starting QB

In a move that should surprise noone, the Bears have named rookie Kyle Orton their starting QB for the regular season. Chad Hutchinson, who was starting in place of the injured Rex Grossman, has fallen complete off the depth chart, behind Orton, Jeff Blake, and Kurt Kittner, making him a likely candidate for a visit by the "turk" this week.

(Aaron adds 10:30pm: As long as we're talking Chicago Bears, Cedric Benson finally ended his holdout tonight.)

Posted by: Russell Levine on 28 Aug 2005

22 comments, Last at 30 Aug 2005, 12:47pm by Todd S.


by Dex (not verified) :: Sun, 08/28/2005 - 6:52pm

I’m not a Bears fan, but for those who are, now may have a glimmer of hope to hang on to for the upcoming NFL season. Hutchinson was down right awful in the playing time he had in his pre-season games, while Orton has looked good, albeit, against second and third team defenses. The Bears, and other NFL teams perhaps, are not as hesitant to lean on the arm of a rookie quarterback, after seeing what ‘Big Ben’ in Pittsburgh, did for the 15-1 Steelers last season. As long as that rookie quarterback has the pre-requisite football skills to succeed in the NFL, and Kyle Orton, I think, can.

Kyle Orton could be the 2005 version of ‘Big Ben’. Orton had gained plenty of national recognition during his college career however; the spotlight may have gotten to his head, as he did not live up to expectations last season as a college Senior. Orton was involved in all of the early ‘Heisman Hype’ because of his performances in Purdue’s first four games, but then he started playing inconsistently, suffering some injuries, and a benching, during the 2004 season. The benching sparked a record setting game against Indiana when he threw for 503 yards. He finished the 2004 season with 3,090 passing yards (60.7%) with 31 touchdowns, and only 5 interceptions. His yardage as a senior wasn’t much more than what he amassed as a junior (2,885), but he doubled his touchdown totals (15 touchdowns in 2003).

If Orton can be a game manager, like some teams ask of an unproven quarterback, then I think the Bears season isn’t washed up, like it would have been with Hutchinson at the helm. Hutchinson may have played his last game in the NFL.

And from a fantasy standpoint, whomever starts at running back (for now, it’s obviously Thomas Jones), as well as all other fantasy offensive positions, production could be salvaged with a quarterback not named Hutchinson. But, placing too much confidence in a rookie quarterback and an anemic offense (over the last many years) could be a recipe for disaster. I’m going to take my chances with some of Chicago’s offensive skilled positions, mainly Muhammed and Jones.

by Nate (not verified) :: Sun, 08/28/2005 - 7:51pm

Good riddance to Hutch (and I am a Bears fan).

Orton earned it. I'd be a little more comfortable with the dsituation if the 'Skins weren't the week 1 opponent, however. That could be rough. Hopefully Blache will stick to his guns and refuse to blitz ;)

by Paul (not verified) :: Sun, 08/28/2005 - 7:51pm

I am a Steeler fan, but if the offensive line and running backs hadn't done so well last year, I don't see Ben having the year he did. Let's face it, he did an admirable job, pretty much what the Steelers asked. The defense allowed him to win with fewer points and let a running game dominate.
Do the Bears have the same setup? Is their defense solid? Do they have a good o-line? Can they depend on the running game? And are their wide receivers basically mistake-free, and by that, I mean no case of the dropsies (Seattle) and run solid routes, if not spectacular (so that Orton doesn't have to guess, or find them quickly). Not saying any of these units have to be top-notch, but if there are major flaws in just one, it's really going to hurt Orton, and the Bears. At this point, I think the Bears would be happy with a 8-8 season, and ecstatic with a 9-7 (which has a good chance of playoffs in the NFC)

by Chris I. (not verified) :: Sun, 08/28/2005 - 8:32pm

Thank you, Lovie! This move had to be made. Hutchinson has been positively Krenzelian, or Quinn-essential, if you like. I expect him to be released this week or next. Meanwhile, Orton looks like a quarterback. Who knows how good he will be, but at least he looks like he knows what he's doing.

Now, how much help will he get from his teammates? The offensive line, if it can stay reasonably healthy, should be much improved over last season's debacle. Thomas Jones has looked good running the ball in the preseason, as has backup Adrian Peterson. I'm not counting on Cedric Benson to do anything this year. It's the curse of the Bears' halfback holdouts. And they have Ron Turner, not Terry Shea, calling plays this year.

The 1st team defense has really been flying around this preseason. I think the only two scoring drives they have allowed were extended by questionable penalties on Chicago after unsuccessful 3rd down plays. Ogunleye is finally healthy and is reminding me of Richard Dent. Tommie Harris could be a Pro Bowler. Mike Brown is back at safety. And, last but not least, Brian Urlacher seems to be playing with a real chip on his shoulder this year. I think he wants to erase all memories of his injury-plagued 2004. So the defense should be good.

I have no idea how good the Bears will be this year, but at least now, with Orton starting, Chicago fans have some hope. My friends and I are already speculating on the date of his season-ending injury.

by Reinhard (not verified) :: Sun, 08/28/2005 - 8:51pm

Behind Baltimore, Kansas City, and Denver, the 4th and 5th most productive rushers so far this preseason are Peterson and Jones. Not bad company when considering ground attacks, despite being without their first round draft pick RB. (Not that it means anything... but can't hurt to give some hope!)

by fyo (not verified) :: Sun, 08/28/2005 - 9:49pm

How can anyone fall behind Kurt Kittner in a depth chart?

I remember him earning me good money for weeks until bookies / gamblers got wise to his amazing ineptitude.

by Justin Zeth (not verified) :: Sun, 08/28/2005 - 11:42pm

Kyle Orton is a passable quarterback with a chance to develop into a good one, but thinking he's anywhere near Ben Roethlisberger's level is insane.

by Phil (not verified) :: Sun, 08/28/2005 - 11:57pm

#7 Since, by all accounts, Chicago's O-line has not improved that much, here's to hoping he's not only a "passable" but also a "runnable" quarterback.

by Adam H (not verified) :: Sun, 08/28/2005 - 11:58pm

"thinking he’s anywhere near Ben Roethlisberger’s level is insane. "
Yeah, don't you know Rothlisberger is the second coming of Kordell Stewart?

by zip (not verified) :: Mon, 08/29/2005 - 12:00am


What's the point of making absolute statements about how good or bad a QB can be? It's unlikely that any rookie QB will ever has as successful a season as Roethlisberger had, but Orton playing at Roethlisberger's "level" -- managing the game and limiting mistakes, and making a few plays... doesn't seem insane.

by Chris I. (not verified) :: Mon, 08/29/2005 - 12:04am

This just in...

The Bears have signed Cedric Benson. It's all gravy from here on in (says the cynical Bears' fan).

by shawn (not verified) :: Mon, 08/29/2005 - 12:32am

Well if Orton couldn't handle the spotlight in college against inferior competition he's toast in the NFL. Chicago is not a small market, and Bears fans are so win-thirsty as soon as he throws a pick he'll have every paper and radio station in Cook County descending on him like locusts.

by David Keller (not verified) :: Mon, 08/29/2005 - 1:50am

Gravy for Buddy Ryan, who was just named the defensive coordinator again for the Bears.

by Dex (not verified) :: Mon, 08/29/2005 - 8:19am

I concur with Zip regarding #10. I said that Orton could be a game manager, like 'Big Ben' was for the Steelers. He may, or may not be, as good as Roethlisberger. Only time will tell. But now having Benson and Jones in the backfield, and utilizing a run-first offense, then Orton will be asked not to loose games. Roethlisberger, by the way, may have a lot to prove this season if he is without a power back like Bettis. Parker, in my opinion, is not a 25-30 carry running back. He will probably be splitting carries with Haynes, but this is no where near a power running attack as it would be with Bettis and Staley. I say the Steelers will try to pass more in the beginning of the season to make up for Bettis' and Staley's early season absences.

by mawbrew (not verified) :: Mon, 08/29/2005 - 9:32am

Can anybody tell me what happened to Orton last year? I don't follow college football closely, but after seeing his game against Notre Dame last year I thought he was a lock as a top ten draft pick. Then I hear later that he's struggling and ultimately benched. What happened?

by TheWedge (not verified) :: Mon, 08/29/2005 - 9:56am

Orton just sort of fell apart. He had a not-great game against Penn State and then fumbled on a crucial possesion late against Wisconsin, which seemed to really set him back (also it can be argued his best games were against some bad teams). Here are his game by game stats:

Syracuse 30-16-0 287 4tds
Ball State 26-23-0 329 5tds
at Illinois 50-35-0 366 4tds
at Notre Dame 31-21-0 385 4tds
at Penn State 35-24-2 277 1td
Wisconsin 45-25-1 245 1td
Michigan 30-14-1 213 1td
at Northwestern 33-15-1 143 1td
at Iowa (benched)
Ohio State 8-7-0 54 1td
Indiana 54-33-0 522 6tds

by B (not verified) :: Mon, 08/29/2005 - 10:02am

I hope this will lead to lots of "Orton hears a Who" jokes.

by cej (not verified) :: Mon, 08/29/2005 - 10:25am

Orton also suffered injuries to both hips around mid-season that probably contributed to his decline.

by Alex H (not verified) :: Mon, 08/29/2005 - 1:50pm

The interessting question is how good will Orton have to be for Rex not to be named the starter next year? Oh wait he'll get some injury, just when the Bears started to "think maybe this is the year for his break out season".

by BobbyN (not verified) :: Tue, 08/30/2005 - 7:58am

Orton definately has the makings of an NFL starter. He looks like he can be decisive when playing at NFL speed. He already had all of the physical tools you want. I heard Joe Tiller say in an interview that he never benched Orton. Orton tore an oblique muscle last year on top of the hip injury which led him to take himself out for a few weeks because it effected his throwing ability too much. He lit things up when he came back from the injury. The Bears will be trying to play a run first + defense style which will let them win a lot of 20-17 type games. I think Orton gives them a chance to have a winning record. I also think the Bears will do every thing possible to keep Grossman on the roster for the last 4-6 games if his rehab goes well.

by mawbrew (not verified) :: Tue, 08/30/2005 - 9:22am

If Orton's problems last year really were injury related, I'm surprised he wasn't drafted higher. Certainly by the time of the combine he should have been completely healthy. If he had performed as well there as he did during the early part of the season, I would have guessed he should have gone before Campbell (the Auburn QB).

by Todd S. (not verified) :: Tue, 08/30/2005 - 12:47pm

I follow Purdue very closely. Orton's "benching" was completely due to injury. He tried to play through it since their backup was also nicked up, but his play really suffered. His offensive line was also overmatched last year once they ran into the good teams in the Big1T1en.

Still, based on his career performance, 3rd round is probably about right. He made enough critical mistakes to question whether he can be a top-tier QB in the pros. I'm rooting for him, of course, but he's going to have to prove it to me on the field. Chicago is a decent situation for him to be thrown into like this: relatively-low expectations, fresh memories of KrenzelQuinn, decent to strong running game, and good young defense. And a weak conference doesn't hurt. How about those Lions last night?