QB Kyle Orton braces for Bears' visit to Mile High

Thursday, August 27, 2009

LAKE FOREST, Ill. —  The quarterback couldn't stop praising his new team and his new surroundings, only this wasn't Jay Cutler talking about the Chicago Bears.

It was Kyle Orton speaking of the Broncos.

While Cutler's return to Denver is grabbing the headlines, he won't be the only quarterback facing his former team in Sunday's preseason game.

"It'll be a lot of fun to see the guys," Orton said Wednesday on a conference call with Chicago reporters. "But it's basically one more chance for us to get ready for Cincinnati, when it really matters."

Even so, the quarterbacks give this game a neat little subplot, an extra dose of intrigue.

Cutler's falling out with new coach Josh McDaniels and Broncos management led to the blockbuster trade to Chicago that sent Orton and draft picks to Denver.

The Bears finally got the franchise quarterback they craved. Cutler got a new start after a messy exit from Denver. And Orton got another chance to prove he's a legitimate starting quarterback with a team that appears to have more weapons than the one that traded him.

"Everybody's been great," Orton said. "The teammates have been great. They've accepted me. They've been great. The coaches have done a great job. Anytime I needed work, they were there and certainly put the time in with me to help me learn this system. So it's all been great."

About the only thing that hasn't been great has been the reception from the fans. While Cutler was immediately embraced in Chicago, the greeting Orton received in Denver was far from warm.

He's been booed repeatedly in a city where John Elway still casts a long shadow and the standards for quarterbacks are a mile high.

"It's tough. I feel bad for Kyle," Cutler said. "I think he's going to pull through in the long run. Offensively, they've got a lot of good players. They've got a great offensive line. They've got good receivers. And Josh McDaniels is a good offensive mind. He puts guys in spots to make plays."

The Broncos have all that and a quarterback with something to prove.

Thrust into a starting role as a rookie while filling in for the injured Rex Grossman in 2005, Orton barely played the next two years before jumping into the No. 1 spot last year. He started strong, but wasn't the same after spraining his right ankle midway through the season, finishing with 2,972 yards while throwing 18 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

Then, after the Bears finished 9-7, general manager Jerry Angelo made it clear an upgrade at quarterback was his top priority when he said: "We have to get that position right."

Orton said that didn't offend him and added he might have come back a little too soon. When the trade went down, though, he was stunned.

"I certainly didn't expect it," he said. "I wasn't paying attention to the whole matter. I really didn't expect it, but (it) looked like an opportunity I could certainly take advantage of."

With 5,319 yards and almost as many interceptions (27) as touchdowns (30) over four seasons in Chicago, Orton's statistics certainly don't compare to Cutler's. The Bears' new quarterback threw for a Broncos-record 4,526 yards, 25 touchdowns and 18 interceptions last season. And in his 37-game career in Denver, he completed 62.5 percent of his passes for 9,024 yards, 54 TDs and 37 interceptions.

He's made the Pro Bowl and figures to command a big contract when his deal expires after the 2011 season, but there is one area where Orton has a big statistical advantage: Orton is 21-12 as a starter, while Cutler is 17-20.

OK, so supporting casts probably had more to do with that than actual QB talent.

Orton was mostly a caretaker whose biggest job was to protect the ball and let a sometimes-dominant defense lead the way in Chicago, although that changed somewhat last season. In Denver, Cutler lined up behind a dominant line and had his pick of top receivers, but dismal defenses did in the Broncos.

Now, there's a new quarterback and he has something to prove. Orton said he doesn't follow Cutler, and isn't comparing their performances.

Someone asked who will throw more touchdowns, and he fired back, "I don't really care."

Why not?

"I don't think touchdown passes necessarily equals wins."

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.



most active