CHICAGO -- In many ways, Josh McCown is a lot like Marc Trestman, an extension of the coach in the meeting room and now on the field.
Trestman has talked about self-actualizing and giving while expecting nothing in return, something that has provided him with happiness. McCown has relished his role, which until Jay Cutler was lost to a torn groin, was to be a sounding board and buffer for the starting quarterback.
Now, McCown must play, which is when so many backups are tripped up and exposed. It's a great job. Backup quarterbacks can enjoy lengthy careers making good money without the mental pressure and physical beating the starter takes.
But if their turn comes and they play poorly, the gig can be up. Jonathan Quinn, Chad Hutchinson, Craig Krenzel and Caleb Hanie, currently a free agent, threw their last NFL passes with the Bears.
McCown provided a spark when the Bears called on him in 2011, and even after sitting out part of last season, here he is preparing to start Monday against the Packers. It's natural to consider if this is his final shot.
"I have had to think that just because I was out," McCown said. "I barely got back in. Every time out it's been, 'Hey, this could be it.' But it doesn't create anxiety. I think it is a good thing. It makes you cherish it more.
"This job is all-encompassing. You want to be here to help the starter and all those things, but if you have to play, you have to play productively. It is the bottom line. But at this point, it's not like I allow that to apply pressure to me.
"I wish everybody would take that approach -- what if this is my last game? Think about how everybody would prepare if we just thought about it that way. I am actually thankful because it has caused me to do little things extra as far as preparation. What if my last game is playing on Monday night at Lambeau Field? What if Jay comes back (next week) and for whatever reason I never play again? I am always focused on this could be my last time out."
It is interesting to consider how McCown's performance, be it in one game or a handful, could affect the quarterback situation heading to 2014. He's 34, and drawing a parallel to Rich Gannon, whose career really took off at the same age in 1999 with the Raiders, is tough. Gannon had made 58 career starts previously while McCown has 33. But you never say never.
One theory is if McCown excels it will be proof Trestman will be able to find a quarterback to plug in and develop if the club chooses to move on from Cutler. But a decision on Cutler needs to be based more on his ability than anything else.
"I want to play well because my team needs me to play well," McCown said. "Whatever happens after that, if there are options, great. Everyone wants to be able to make choices. But I am not thinking that far ahead."
Keeping it clean
The Bears entered Week 9 with the second-fewest penalties (31) and yards marked off (273), trailing only the Colts (28-227), a testament to Trestman and his staff. Part of it has to be how Trestman runs practice, starting with full-speed reps in the offseason and training camp. He wants to simulate game action as much as possible. But Trestman handles pre-snap penalties differently than most. If one occurs, the play is nixed. While a lot of coaches will huddle up and run the play again, the Bears move on to the next one on the script because Trestman doesn't stand for do-overs in practice when they don't exist in games. It's viewed as an opportunity given to the opponent.
The Bears agreed to terms on a one-year contract for defensive tackle Jay Ratliff on Saturday, adding a veteran who should be able to help in the stretch run. Ratliff left the Cowboys last month on messy terms, with a team-run website suggesting the club will pursue Ratliff legally for bonus money in an extension he received two years ago. But Bears special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis, who spent four seasons with the Cowboys, provided a strong recommendation, saying on Thursday Ratliff is the kind of guy he'd want with him if he were in a foxhole. Ratliff, 32, has not played since Nov. 18, 2012, and it's unrealistic to think he's still at a Pro Bowl level. But with the injuries that have decimated the middle of the line, Ratliff should provide a boost beginning later this month when he is cleared to play.
Information for this report was obtained from NFL scouts.
Eddie Lacy, who fell to No. 61 in the draft, has helped transform the Packers offense into a multi-dimensional attack. Green Bay is third in the league in rushing, averaging 141.4 yards per game, creating a dilemma for the Bears, who have traditionally defended the Packers and quarterback Aaron Rodgers with their Cover-2 scheme.
Lacy led the NFL in rushing in October with 395 yards and is now paired with a healthy James Starks, giving coach Mike McCarthy a 1-2 combination that makes the offense more diverse than it has been in many years.
"Defensively, I don't know what you do against the Packers, especially with some of the wide receivers injured," one scout said. "Teams have played Cover-2 or 2-man against them for so long because they are afraid of Rodgers. Now, they're running Lacy, and he's not super fast, but he's got pretty good vision, he's a decent cut-back runner, and the best part about him is he finishes runs. He's going forward. He can run through contact, and defenders have to really square him up. They run that one-back power, the crack toss where they pull the guard. Lacy isn't looking to get outside. He wants to cut up inside and get north-south. He's good for what they are doing. He was a good pick, a great pick where they got him, and now defenses don't know what to do."
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