With training camp right around the corner I am going to focus on the position battles to watch over the next two months. I’m starting with backup QB since it might be the most important battle if Jay Cutler misses time with injuries, which he has the last 4 seasons. I remember dreading the idea of Cutler getting hurt because I had no faith in backup Josh McCown, but he surprised me and everyone else by arguably out playing Cutler. McCown played at a Pro Bowl level for the Bears (13 TDs, 1 INT) and kept their playoff hopes alive. With McCown now the projected starter in Tampa Bay, the Bears need to find a reliable replacement.
Just over a month ago it looked like Palmer had the backup job locked up. Despite rumors that the Bears were looking at free agent backups, they didn’t sign one. Not bringing in an established backup was a vote of confidence in Palmer, but he couldn’t participate in some of the OTAs and mini-camps due to a pectoral injury and looked rusty when he was healthy enough to practice. Whether the Bears were unhappy with Palmer or just wanted to bring in some competition, they signed Jimmy Clausen on June 5th and the backup job was officially up for grabs.
Palmer has only thrown 15 passes in actual NFL games and none since 2010, so despite his 6-year tenure in the league he doesn’t have much experience. What he does have is ideal size (6’5, 233), bloodlines (Carson’s brother), intelligence and a good enough arm, but it’s still unknown whether he can produce in game situations. Palmer needs to stay healthy and have a productive preseason to earn the backup gig that he was once considered a lock for.
Jimmy Clausen (6’3, 217) doesn’t have much experience, but he has more than Palmer or Fales. After being drafted early in the 2nd round by the Panthers in 2010, Clausen started ten games his rookie year. The results were ugly (3 TDs / 9 INTs), but he had little talent around him and was sacked 33 times. The Panthers drafted Cam Newton 1st overall the next season and Clausen hasn’t seen the field since. His first chance to play was a failure, but the odds were stacked against him. Clausen has first round talent that neither Palmer nor Fales can match. He has a quick release, elite accuracy on short-to-intermediate passes, a high football IQ and above-average athleticism. The main knocks on Clausen were that he is a jerk and doesn’t throw a great deep ball.
So far in his brief stint with the Bears, Clausen is impressing coaches with his work ethic and performance in mini-camp. The Bears already released QB Jerrod Johnson, who had been with the team for over a year, to make room for Clausen. With Palmer struggling and Clausen impressing Bears coaches, he is a clear threat to Palmer’s hold on the #2 job.
I haven’t heard much one way or the other about Fales performance in OTAs and mini-camp except that Bears coaches are happy with how quickly he is picking up the offense. In college Fales showed a quick release and elite accuracy which seems to me a common thread among the three QBs vying for the back-up job. Fales is a long-shot as a rookie, but neither Clausen nor Palmer has a full season of game experience either so I think Fales has at least a chance to win the backup job with a strong preseason performance.
Projected Winner: Jimmy Clausen
The fact that the Bears signed a QB in June, well after the free agent period was over, is a clear sign that the Bears aren’t 100% satisfied with Palmer as the backup QB. Mark Trestman has some history with Clausen and he has a very similar skill-set as last year’s backup Josh McCown. Palmer has been around for 6 seasons and hasn’t been able to earn playing time which isn’t a great sign, while Clausen earned a starting job as a rookie (granted there was little competition) and lost his job to a Pro Bowl QB in Cam Newton. It is rumored that Clausen has toned down his attitude and is making all the right moves so far. With a much better O-line and receiving core than he had in Carolina, Clausen could make good on the potential that earned him a 1st round grade coming out of college. I think Trestman is intrigued by Clausen’s upside and will give him the first chance at the backup job. Of course it is early and performance in training camp and the preseason games will be the ultimate deciding factors, but right now I think Clausen is the favorite.