By Chris Emma–
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) — For a second straight draft, Bears general manager Ryan Pace in April went against his own stated strategy and didn’t select a developmental quarterback.
Perhaps Pace may later regret not taking current Cowboys starter Dak Prescott, on whom he passed for three defensive players in the fourth round. Or perhaps he could regret it as soon as Sunday night, when his Bears face the rookie Prescott at Jerry Jones’ massive AT&T Stadium.
Pace instead chose to sign veteran quarterback Brian Hoyer, an eight-year veteran of 26 NFL starts. The Bears wanted a steady backup like Hoyer — and to draft defensive players in the middle rounds — instead of investing in a developmental prospect in Prescott. And you better believe being passed up until deep in the fourth round still stings.
“It’s something that motivates me and pushes me every day — to make people rethink that decision,” Prescott said.
Sunday in Dallas brings a meeting of the two backups thrust into starting roles, Hoyer and Prescott. Barring a stunning change of fortunes, Bears starter Jay Cutler will be out with his right thumb sprain.
Hoyer is stepping in as the starter until Cutler’s thumb can heal. He will be tasked with leading the 0-2 Bears.
“Whether you’re the starter, the backup or the third guys, you prepare every week like you’re the starter,” Hoyer said.
The Bears planned for this type of scenario. Cutler has played the full 16 games just once in Chicago, his first season in 2009. Injuries have come frequently for Cutler, who has taken a beating in the pocket during his time as Bears quarterback behind some shaky offensive lines.
In comes Hoyer, a veteran of five different teams. He finished Monday’s relief appearance at 9-of-12 for 78 yards. Hoyer’s most recent start came in the Texans’ abysmal 30-0 playoff exit to the Chiefs during January’s AFC wild-card round, a game in which he threw four interceptions.
Hoyer will be tasked with leading a struggling Chicago offense into Dallas. During their first two losses, the Bears have struggled to establish any kind of rhythm on offense. The passing game hasn’t been consistent, and the running game has been non-existent.
Some semblance of a rushing attack would be the complement Hoyer needs for comfort.
“Any quarterback — I don’t care what status they are — will tell you the running game is one of their best friends,” Bears coach John Fox said. “No matter who your quarterback is, if you’re dropping back and throwing it 45 or 50 times, it’s usually not a great result. Regardless of the quarterback, we do emphasize the run game.”
The 31-year-old Hoyer has been a serviceable replacement in the NFL. He boasts a 58.3 completion percentage, 38 touchdowns to 26 interceptions, and he owns a 15-11 record in 26 starts. The wins have been as much a credit to the game plan and defense as to Hoyer, who can manage a game well.
Following two poor performances, the Bears must support Hoyer with a quality rushing attack and a steady defense to keep them in the game.
“Each week is an individual week,” Hoyer said of the 0-2 start. “You’ve got to learn from the mistakes that you made during the game, try to correct those and get better and keep doing the things well that you’re doing well. Each game is its own game, and I think you just got to keep taking those steps every week.”
The Cowboys (1-1) are facing a similar scenario. Their best-laid plans were compromised when starting quarterback Tony Romo suffered a back injury during the third preseason game. Enter Prescott, the rookie tasked with leading “America’s Team” and a talented Cowboys core. Ezekiel Elliott has carried the load at running back behind the league’s best offensive line, while Dez Bryant and Jason Witten serve as playmakers for the quarterback.
Prescott met with the Bears during the Senior Bowl and was scouted closely at the NFL Combine, but Pace elected to pass. Prescott felt he had “pretty good” meetings with the Bears, but he ended up with the Cowboys.
Despite his inexperience, Prescott has played fine football in two regular-season games. Hoyer has experience but lacks the upside of a promising rookie.
Sunday will bring the Bears a look at their present at quarterback matching up with what could’ve been.