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No-worries Caleb Hanie swears he is up to the challenge

Caleb Hanie says he has “been waiting for this opportunity” be Bears’ starting QB.  |  Al Podgorski~Sun-Times

Caleb Hanie says he has “been waiting for this opportunity” to be the Bears’ starting QB. | Al Podgorski~Sun-Times

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Updated: December 26, 2011 8:56AM

The local media took it easy on Caleb Hanie in his first news conference as the Bears’ starting quarterback — waiting a whole five minutes before asking if he was concerned about his job.

‘‘It won’t affect my confidence at all [if the Bears signed Kyle Orton],’’ Hanie said. ‘‘I know where I am in this offense. I know what I’m doing in this offense. I’ve been waiting for this opportunity. Kyle’s a great guy. I was here with him as a rookie and he did a great job in the locker room and stuff like that. So I like Kyle. It won’t affect my role at all.’’

With an easy smile, a couple of Jay Cutler-related jokes and a comfortable give-and-take with reporters at Halas Hall on Wednesday, Hanie had the confidence of a player who isn’t looking over his shoulder. The Bears paid for their lack of confidence in him last season. With Cutler likely out for the rest of the regular season after having surgery to repair a broken right thumb, they made sure Hanie knows the job is his. The Bears signed veteran Josh McCown later in the day after the Kansas City Chiefs had claimed Orton off waivers, but Caleb is their quarterback.

‘‘I talked to Lovie [Smith] this morning,’’ Hanie said. ‘‘He said, ‘Whatever veteran quarterback we bring in, you don’t need to worry about it. You’re our guy.’’’

It might look like a daunting challenge for Hanie, who has played in seven games in his four seasons with the Bears and will be making his first start against the Oakland Raiders on Sunday in Oakland. But Hanie isn’t looking at it as a challenge. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime. The hard part was making the Bears’ roster after not getting drafted out of Colorado State in 2008.

“You never want it to come at the expense of one of your good friends and close teammates and one of your best players. You never want that to happen,’’ Hanie said. ‘‘But you have to take advantage of opportunities when they’re given to you so that’s what I’m going to try to do.”

The 6-2, 222-pound Hanie lacks experience, but not confidence. He feels good about his performance in the NFC Championship Game against the Packers — when he led two touchdown drives, but threw two interceptions as a third-string emergency fill-in for Cutler. He’s been learning Mike Martz’s offense for as long as Cutler has. And he’s taking over a team that is on a roll.

“I feel very confident in this situation,’’ Hanie said. ‘‘Our defense is playing excellent, taking away the football. Our running game is solid. Matt’s having a Pro Bowl year in my opinion. Our receivers are coming on strong, starting to make plays within the offense. I feel very comfortable. As long as I do my job and get the ball to the playmakers and let them do the hard work and it should be fun.’’

The formula probably won’t be that simple, but Hanie believes he can continue offense’s momentum even though he doesn’t have all of Cutler’s skills.

“I feel like we’re pretty similar,’’ Hanie said when asked how similar his game is Cutler’s. ‘‘Our offense is built around being mobile in the pocket and making accurate throws and getting the ball out quick, while … protecting the football. So that plays to my strengths.’’

Bears offensive coordinator Martz sounded as confident as he’s ever been about Hanie.

‘‘I don’t have any reservations about Caleb. I trust him completely,’’ Martz said. ‘‘He’s been preparing for this for a long time. It’s a great opportunity for him. Everybody in this organization is excited for him. We know he’s ready. This’ll be fun. We’re really looking forward to it.’’

Smith was adamant that Hanie be treated like the starting quarterback, not a backup trying to ­survive.

‘‘We just want Caleb to play within our system and do what he quarterback position tells you to do,’’ Smith said. ‘‘I talked to Caleb this morning and let him know, ‘I’m not going to have you in there every morning [asking] how [are] you feeling? and all that stuff.’ He’ll do a good job at what we ask him to do.’’

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