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Jason Campbell gives Bears a huge upgrade at backup QB

JasCampbell has shown poise pocket commoffense camp. | Charles Rex Arbogast~AP

Jason Campbell has shown poise in the pocket and command of the offense in camp. | Charles Rex Arbogast~AP

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Updated: September 8, 2012 6:13AM

BOURBONNAIS — Midway through training camp, there’s one area the Bears are dramatically better.

Backup quarterback.

While starter Jay Cutler shines, so does backup Jason Campbell, a stark contrast to a year ago.

“Caleb Hanie was in a developmental role, more like a third quarterback,” an NFC personnel director said. “Campbell has started a lot of games, and he could still start for some teams today. So the difference is huge.”

Training-camp practices bolster that point.

After sitting out the first few practices last year because of a rule in the collective-bargaining agreement, Hanie struggled so much that he was benched in favor of fifth-round pick Nathan Enderle, who’s no longer on the team.

Banking on a few plays Hanie made in the NFC title game after the 2010 season, the Bears kept him as the primary backup, despite a sloppy training camp wrought with interceptions and sacks.

During the season, Hanie fared no better, going 0-4 as a starter ­after Cutler broke his thumb.

Hanie is with the Denver Broncos, vying to be Peyton Manning’s backup. The Bears host the Broncos on Thursday at Soldier Field in their preseason opener.

Campbell, meanwhile, should be an NFL starter.

During practices, he shows poise in the pocket, command of the offense and the physical tools to make the necessary throws and runs.

“He’s doing a great job of coming in and giving us that security blanket,” Bears center Roberto Garza said. “He has a lot of talent, and he’s started a lot of games. So we’re very fortunate to have a guy with his experience. He’s going to make us all better.”

Asked if he was surprised that the Bears landed the veteran quarterback, Garza said, “Absolutely. You expect a guy like that to be a starter.”

So did Campbell.

Last season, he led the Oakland Raiders to a 4-2 start, but Campbell suffered a collarbone injury, and Raiders coach Hue Jackson desperately traded for Carson Palmer, handing the Cincinnati Bengals first- and second-round picks.

Palmer went 4-5 as a starter, and the Raiders finished 8-8.

“It was hard to swallow,” Campbell said. “After the whole trade, [Jackson] told me, ‘I just want to win, and I want to win now.’

“I was like, ‘Dang. In this game, there’s really no patience.’ But those are the cards that were dealt.”

Campbell, 30, has had plenty of — in card parlance — bad beats since the Washington Redskins selected him in the first round of the 2005 draft. Including his college career at Auburn, Campbell has played for 11 coordinators in the last 11 years.

Mike Tice is his 12th.

“I try to let all those things go, even the things I went through in Washington,” he said. “The trade and everything. You let those things go because you don’t want your past to keep you from moving forward in life.”

Yet Campbell still grew frustrated toward the end of last season, when he saw terrible quarterback play around the league.

“It was tough to watch,” he said. “You just feel like, ‘What is it about you that people just don’t like? What is it?’ But those are things out of your control.”

Campbell had plenty of interest in free agency, but several teams were non-committal because of Manning. So Campbell decided to hedge his bet.

“Coach [Lovie] Smith called, and he was very interested in me coming here. You want to be where you’re wanted,” said Campbell, who signed a one-year deal. “There were some other teams, but you had the whole waiting game because Peyton Manning was a free agent.

“Five or six teams were on the Peyton Manning wagon, so a lot of things were put on hold. I couldn’t keep passing up a good situation trying to wait for another situation to come up. Then say one of those don’t happen, now you’re stuck. I just couldn’t keep putting things on hold.”

Besides, Campbell is thrilled about the Bears’ potential.

“Chicago is a great football team and an opportunity to get yourself going,” he said. “I’m excited to be here and be under a coach like Lovie Smith and learn as much as I can.”

Naturally, the Bears don’t want anything to happen to Cutler. But …

“Hopefully, we don’t get to that situation, but it’s football,” Garza said. “He’s won a lot of games in this league, and you can’t cut that short. He’s been there and done that. Obviously, you don’t want someone in that situation who has no experience.”

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