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Bears will see plenty of precocious quarterbacks this season

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Updated: October 3, 2012 6:25AM



These days, Rod Marinelli’s 63-year-old face usually seems very kind. Grandfather-like kind.

But he’s still a football coach, a defensive coordinator. He still uses terms such as “three dogs, one bone.’’

So when the topic of how defenses used to treat opposing rookie quarterbacks in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s came up, an evil smirk came across his face. The eyes got crazy.

The dog had found his bone.

“Yeah,’’ he said, nodding his head and recalling days of yesteryear. “We really did a number on some guys. … Things have changed now. We know now that we’re playing some of the best quarterbacks to enter the league. We have to make sure our sword is sharp every week.’’

This is the new NFL.

A passing league in which quarterbacks are walking right off college campuses and into NFL starting huddles without skipping a beat.

Sharpened swords and all, the Bears will get a big dose of the league’s version of the baby boomers. They play seven of their 16 games against quarterbacks with two years of experience or less, starting in Week 1, when they host the Indianapolis Colts and No. 1 pick Andrew Luck.

“I’ve been peeking in and watching some film, getting an idea about him, and you see what [Luck] is doing,’’ Marinelli said. “Some of these young guys are really good.’’

Besides Luck, the Bears have to face Blaine Gabbert (Jaguars), Cam Newton (Panthers), Jake Locker (Titans), Russell Wilson (Seahawks) and Christian Ponder (Vikings) twice.

Leaguewide, five teams will start rookie quarterbacks the opening week.

“It is one of the most astounding statistics that I’ve seen in football in the last 25 years: the amount of young quarterbacks that are now playing early, and playing well,’’ ESPN analyst Jon Gruden said.

Gruden would know.

The former coach still eats through film like a bowl of popcorn and has one of the more intriguing shows on ESPN when he brings young quarterbacks in for his “Gruden’s QB Camp.’’

“Coaches are demanding more and more from these quarterbacks at a high tempo,’’ Gruden said. “They are coming into the league much more accomplished in terms of throwing the football, recognizing defenses, and with this 20-hour-a-week schedule in college football, the quarterbacks have taken charge of their teams in the offseason.

“They are running workouts. They are running passing academies on their own, so they are becoming dynamic leaders. I think it’s really enhanced the play at quarterback, just the style of college football.’’

In other words, it’s a perfect storm of the college game embracing spread offenses, the coaching demands being put on quarterbacks, high school programs throwing the ball more and the technology of social media.

Throw in the money paid to quarterbacks in the draft, even after the new rookie pool was established two years ago, and the days of rookies holding a clipboard on the sideline with a baseball cap on for a few years are over.

“It’s not only the throwing programs that have developed, the seven-on-seven camps, but take a look at the media in general and the Internet,’’ Bears general manager Phil Emery said. “Just look at a school’s website, a school’s in-house reporting staff. These guys are so used to dealing with the media and dealing with high-level pressure and all the attention it brings, being a quarterback at a major-college program is huge.

“Tennessee, you look at what they do just on their website and the layers and layers of reporting that all the major schools do now through their own vehicles and the market they try to generate in the fan interest, these guys are really brought up to handle pressure. Where maybe not so in the era before Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco. Yeah, there was pressure, but not that kind of 24/7, Internet, blogs writing about how good or bad you are every day in practice and games. Who you see, what you do — these guys are really used to dealing with it.’’

So a Ryan Leaf, drafted second to Peyton Manning in the 1998 draft, couldn’t hide the fact that he was a meltdown waiting to happen these days. A JaMarcus Russell, picked first overall by the Raiders in 2007, would be exposed as unprepared.

“You have that maturity now that can be measured much easier, and then you add the athleticism we’re seeing,’’ Emery said. “There has been a big group of mobile quarterbacks, and that [mobility] gives them a chance to succeed when they’re young, where they can avoid the rush until you continue to build around them.’’

Athleticism permitting on-the-job survival, a nice trait to have.

All Newton did with it last season was smash almost every major rookie quarterback record, throwing for 4,051 yards and 21 touchdowns, as well as rushing for another 14 touchdowns.

“A big part of it is teams are just more aggressive in what they’re doing with the passing game,’’ NFL Network’s Charlie Casserly said. “I’m not seeing defenses less aggressive because of rule changes. I still see defensive players making adjustments on striking points. It’s not the rules. It’s teams now having the mind-set of being aggressive in throwing the ball.’’

Casserly has spent years in NFL front offices, and his other point was that big contracts force teams to accelerate quarterbacks. Good or bad, follow the money.

“You can’t afford to sit a guy on the bench for three years anymore,’’ Casserly said.

So while all these young guns hit the league running, and passing, it’s now Marinelli’s job to stunt that growth, if only for a week.

“A lot of bright guys coming into this league,’’ Marinelli said. “You don’t change what you’re doing because of their inexperience. Our focus is fine-tuning what we do. Let them adjust to us.’’

One old dog, one bone, no thanks on the new tricks.



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