Let’s focus on Jay Cutler, not Jimmy Clausen and Jordan Palmer
BY RICK MORRISSEY Sports Columnist July 30, 2014 9:55PM
Updated: September 1, 2014 8:06AM
Josh McCown is to blame for all of this.
The minute-to-minute media coverage of the Bears’ backup quarterback battle between Jordan Palmer and Jimmy Clausen. Updates on which one overthrew an open receiver at training camp and the unspoken question of how he can live with himself. Whether Jay Cutler seems to be hanging out with one quarterback more than the other, whether that’s a barometer of who’s winning the competition and whether the starter might be vulnerable to bribery. Free babysitting services, for example.
Question after question at news conferences having to do with the backup position. Coach Marc Trestman denying a report that said he preferred one over the other. Ensuing debates about the merits of a free press.
Analysis of footwork in the pocket. Discussions of decision-making skills as a metaphor for life.
It’s only a matter of time before we in the media go to the hometowns of Palmer and Clausen to find out what molded these men into the nonstarting quarterbacks they are today.
If you find all of the coverage a bit excessive, send your complaints and your weariness to McCown, who changed how people think of the backup-quarterback position. They now have the idea that a backup should bear a striking resemblance to Tom Brady.
Believe me, I understand the obsession with a position that used to be right up there with lieutenant governor. Cutler has missed 12 games the last three years. The Bears struck gold with McCown, who performed extremely well in five starts when Cutler was out with groin and ankle injuries last season.
So now, thanks to McCown’s out-of-nowhere accomplishments in 2013, every day is Super Tuesday in terms of media coverage of the backup position.
I feel sorry for whoever wins the job and potentially has to come in for an injured Cutler. The McCown-fueled expectations might be overwhelming. Imagine that: You’re not expected to live up to what the starting quarterback can do; you’re expected to do what last year’s backup did, the backup who inadvertently launched a raging debate about whether he should be the permanent starter.
Potential headline: Clausen more McClown than McCown.
Bears fans do not want to find out if Trestman can work his magic on Clausen or Palmer, the way he did with McCown last year. They would prefer that the starter make it through the whole season in one piece. If you haven’t heard, wide receiver Brandon Marshall said Wednesday that Cutler could be the league’s most valuable player in 2014. Perhaps it’s not Cutler’s backups who are offering babysitting services.
It says something about how established the Bears’ offense is that the big story in training camp is who will win the backup-quarterback job. I can’t emphasize this enough: That really is a good thing. Maybe not in terms of eyestrain for readers and viewers, or of noise pollution for listeners, but the fact that we even know who Palmer is means there’s not much to discuss this camp. Cutler is the one to lead the team. No debate.
But that paragraph of positive thinking aside, man, this is tough sledding. Backup QBs are not supposed to be seen or heard. There ought to be a law that, unless a Biblical flood sweeps away the starter, we should only think about backup QBs when they’re throwing an interception in the fourth quarter of the second game of the preseason. Or when we’re dead.
You’ve probably seen this when one basketball team is blowing out another team: The starters for the soon-to-be victorious team will cheer almost patronizingly from the bench for the scrubs. That’s how it should be with the backup quarterback. We shouldn’t be treating this QB competition as if it were life or death or anything in between. We should smile and say of them, “Isn’t that cute, the way they’re doing things like the big quarterbacks do?’’
Did I put all of this on McCown, who’s now a Buccaneer? Maybe I should spread around some of the blame. Maybe Cutler and his crash-test dummy of a body should get a good portion of it. If he didn’t get hurt so much, we’d probably be viewing Clausen and Palmer as the guys wearing caps and staring at clipboards on the sideline, which is what they should be doing.
I hope we look back on this at the end of the season and smile at our preoccupation with a position that shouldn’t matter. Unless it did.