Can Caleb Hanie Become This Season's Matt Cassel?

A franchise quarterback goes down.  A largely unknown backup quarterback must step into some big shoes to try to lead a team with high expectations to the playoffs.  Sounds familiar, huh?  In 2008, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady went down for the season in Week 1 and seventh round draft pick Matt Cassel was forced into action.  He led the Patriots to 11 wins and after some twists and turns of fate may have indirectly led Jay Cutler to Chicago.  Thanks again Josh McDaniels.

Fast forward to present day and undrafted Caleb Hanie gets pressed into action for the Wild Card contending Bears while Jay Cutler recovers from a broken thumb.  The difference is, Hanie gets spotted a 7-3 record and has playoff NFC Championship game experience.

It’s next man up for the Chicago Bears.  Jay Cutler is busy recuperating and not making wedding plans and we can’t dwell on it.  It’s time to move on.  It’s time to turn our attention to Caleb Hanie.   It begs the question, who the hell is Caleb Hanie?  For some of the answers, we turn to the terrific article from National Football Post by Greg Gabriel, former director of college scouting who recruited Hanie and brought him to the Bears.

The 6’2″ Hanie signed with the Bears as an undrafted free agent out of Colorado State University in 2008.   He has completed 8 out of 14 regular season passes for 66 yards.  In last season’s NFC Championship game, when pressed into action out of the emergency 3rd quarterback spot, Hanie went 13 for 20 for 153 with a touchdown and a pair of costly interceptions.  What did the Bears see in Hanie to bring him in?  Here’s Gabriel:

Hanie was a two-year starter at Colorado State and though the team wasn’t a big winner, Hanie had good stats, showed a strong arm, was athletic and tough.

Here’s Greg Gabriel’s outlook for Hanie going forward:

I know this about Hanie — he is a gamer and a winner. His strong points are he is an excellent athlete with a strong arm and good accuracy. With his athleticism he can extend plays with his feet and is a good runner. His main weakness is his lack of regular season game experience. This I know: he is respected by his teammates, is a good leader and, now with two years in the system, feels comfortable. My gut feeling is he is going to play well and lead the Bears to the playoffs. The whole scenario couldn’t come at a better time for Hanie. He signed a 1-year tender as an RFA before training camp. A strong showing will put him in good position as a UFA going into the offseason. If he plays well the Bears will have to pay him to keep him. Of course a poor showing could end his career. Knowing him the way I do, I bet that he will be one of the big stories of the last weeks of the 2011 NFL season.

Sounds good to me.

In all honesty, Hanie just needs to do enough not to get the Bears beaten.  I hate to use the game manager tag, but it’s appropriate.  If Hanie can manage the game and ride a surging defense and ridiculous special teams unit while leading the Bears through the least difficult portion of their schedule, the Bears have a great shot at making the playoffs.  And as Gabriel notes, he can set himself up for next season and beyond on the free agent market with one of those one-year wonder Matt Cassel-type deals.

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