David Haugh's Bears mailbag

Kyle Orton . . . gunslinger?

Drew Brees used that word to describe his successor at Purdue, where quarterbacks practically are issued a holster and ammo clip with their playbooks.

But in the NFL, the Bears have yet to equip Orton with any schematic weapons that have much more range than a paintball gun. Given that, nobody should be surprised that with the Bears Orton has become known for taking what the defense gives him more than taking shots downfield.

Of Orton's 52 pass attempts this year, for example, 42 have traveled 10 yards or less, according to STATS. In 2005, 70 percent of his 368 pass attempts were of the same short, safe distance.

But to paraphrase football philosopher Dennis Green, is Orton really who we thought he is? Or does a high-risk, high-reward quarterback lurk somewhere within him?

"[At Purdue] he was kind of a gunslinger and has that mentality he could go out there and make a few mistakes, put it aside and move on,'' Brees said of Orton.

Perhaps to truly see what they have in their No. 3 quarterback, the Bears have to put aside the shackles and let Orton be Orton. Offensive coordinator Ron Turner remembers that guy from his days coaching against Orton at Illinois. Could Turner envision the day when somebody uses Brees' description about Orton the NFL quarterback?

"Yeah, definitely he could be one,'' Turner said.

OK, then, wide receivers at 50 paces. Weather permitting, Sunday at Soldier Field would be a good place for Orton to start taking target practice just to see.

Could he do enough against the Saints to affect the Bears' off-season thinking at quarterback? A good question, and these are too.

Now that Troy Aikman came out and said that "no matter how good or great Kyle Orton plays, the Bears still do not think of him as their starter next year," do you agree or disagree? --Dennis K. Troyler, Tulsa

Of the quarterbacks on the roster, the Bears still rate Rex Grossman ahead of Orton. Lovie Smith offered Orton high praise Wednesday for his play against Green Bay, which was deserved. But the quarterback situation is too fluid to draw any conclusions now. A good game Sunday will give Orton reason to say he should compete for the No. 1 job in training camp if the other quarterbacks on the roster are Grossman, if he's re-signed, and a rookie, if one is drafted. But too many if's still exist to count Orton in or out.

I keep hearing people mention restricted free-agent Derek Anderson of Cleveland as a potential signing who would fix the Bears. But I've tracked his games and he throws a lot of interceptions and gets a lot of yardage because he throws a lot when the Browns are behind. In your opinion, is he that much better than Rex Grossman or Orton to spend two high draft picks? --Howard L., Chicago

It's a valid concern. Anderson has thrown 18 interceptions compared to 28 TDs, which is a good ratio. But seven of those picks have come in his last four games when Anderson has come back to earth a little. In that span, he has posted a pretty pedestrian 65.4 passer rating and completed 52 percent of his passes. Sorry, but Grossman can do that and not cost the Bears a first- and third-round draft pick it would cost a team to acquire Anderson if the Browns stick the franchise tag on him. The Bears have a history of making sound decisions about players in the league thanks to the detail work Pro Personnel Director Bobby DePaul and his staff do. Speculation in Cleveland spiked again that the Browns might part ways with Anderson to make room for Brady Quinn after the team extended the contract of No. 3 quarterback Ken Dorsey -- considered Quinn's mentor. But for a team such as the Bears with so many other needs, they might be better off keeping their draft picks, re-signing Grossman, giving Orton a chance to compete and fix the offensive line.

What is the status of Brian Griese's contract and is he likely to return next year? --Anonymous

Oh, yeah, forgot about Griese. But then it's easy to given the ways the Bears have dismissed the classy veteran this season. He deserved better than to be embarrassed in the flap over the Philadelphia 2-minute drill and later when he was forced to lie to the media about his demotion. Griese has three years and $5.4 million left on his deal, and would be handy if expensive to keep for insurance for 2008 (he's due $1.4 million). But if the Bears draft a quarterback as they should and keep Grossman and Orton, then Griese becomes expendable and it'd be good business to let him find a new home in the league where he might be appreciated more.

Who's the best interview in the Bears locker room? --Joely Z., Fishers, Ind.

The two Bears whose oratory skills and personalities make them future TV possibilities are Brendon Ayanbadejo and Muhsin Muhammad. Tight end Desmond Clark is good but guarded. The most sincere Bears player in interviews is either Jamar Williams or Nathan Vasher. The goofiest is Tommie Harris. The most serious and relevant is Adewale Ogunleye. The biggest stand-up guy this year has been Alex Brown. But overall, Rex Grossman handles his media responsibilities in a professional way that puts many of his teammates to shame.

What kind of season did center Olin Kreutz have? People talked about Brian Urlacher missing the Pro Bowl but his omission for the first time in six years got overlooked. --James P., Skokie

As hard as it is to evaluate individual offensive linemen from the press box, Kreutz has been the first to admit he's not had a good year and it's easy to agree. Just look at the numbers that show the Bears are the second-worst running team in football and have given up 41 sacks. When a line leaks that much, it's difficult to say the captain of that unit has had anything but a disappointing season.

Do you think the Bears will have any interest in Justin Fargas or LaMont Jordan or any other free-agent running back? And, since he can't seem to evaluate talent at any other offensive spot, should Jerry Angelo draft an O-lineman with the first pick? Could they make a push at the Steelers' free-agent guard Alan Faneca? --Joe Spencer, Grand Junction, Colo.

Fargas emerged as a nice surprise with a 1,009-yard season in Oakland despite not starting until Week 9 but just suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament that landed him on injured reserve. There would be medical concerns but the Bears have to do a lot of window-shopping on running backs with the top target rumored to be the Chargers' Michael Turner. The offensive line, from this view, should be the position filled with the first-round draft pick. As for free-agent guard Alan Faneca, he could command Eric Steinbach and Steve Hutchinson money in the open market so the Bears will have to determine a priority list dictated by their success negotiating with Lance Briggs and/or Bernard Berrian. The salary cap expands to $116 million next year, but it's not a bottomless pit of money.

I saw a report that the Vikings might be wary of going after Donovan McNabb because he would cost two first-round draft picks. I think he's worth a second- and fifth-rounder. Do you think any team will put up a first rounder? -- Tyler, Chicago

Two first-round draft choices is probably too steep of a price for a team with as many holes as the Bears. If they were one player away from Super Bowl contention, it's a different answer. But that speculative price for McNabb, whose status changes more than the weather, might be a starting point. The Eagles won't part with McNabb playing at his current level for a second- and fifth-round draft pick. That'd be a steal. Whatever the price, if McNabb is made available to curious shoppers, the Bears owe it to themselves and their fans to be at the front of that line seeing if they can afford the investment.

Your column on Ron Turner was well written. Loved it. But isn't Turner also the same guy who abandoned the running game too often in many games, including Super Bowl XXLI? That tells me he is a stubborn guy, who can't make adjustments necessary. What is the general assessment of him as a coach around the league? Also, do you see them adding any offensive coaches like Chan Gailey and Bill Callahan to bolster/put pressure on Turner to produce in 2008? --Steven Negishi, Yokosuka, Japan

If Ron Turner loses his job with the Bears on a Monday, his phone will be ringing non-stop on Tuesday. His reputation around the league was one of the things that helped Turner find work so quickly after being fired from Illinois. He chose the Bears over a nice offer from Brian Billick and the Ravens, and has enough contacts and respect throughout the league -- beyond just his brother, Norv, in San Diego -- that he wouldn't be unemployed for long. Which brings up the biggest question surrounding Turner's job status the Bears can't ignore: Who would be out there that's really better? Change for the sake of change doesn't necessarily guarantee improvement on an offense GM Jerry Angelo called "inept.''

Considering the Bears won the last game playing their old formula for success -- the first time the formula has worked all year -- should they build their team around the formula for next year? Or should they try for a more offense-oriented, aggressive approach to football? --Lee Sussman, Glencoe, Ill.

As long as Angelo runs the show, and he's under contract until 2013, the formula always will be the one the Bears follow. Why not? It works. The Bears, in theory, don't need to be overly aggressive on offense. They need to be efficient and overpowering enough up front to establish a power running game when necessary. If the Bears had met the minimum criteria offensively this year, as flawed as the defense was, they still would be in the playoffs. So it's not the formula that necessarily should be doubted.

What's your gut feeling on Bernard Berrian? --Adam J., Walnut City, Calif.

Berrian honestly believes he is a Top 10 wide receiver and should be paid accordingly. He likely also will be the best wide receiver on the open market, likely pricing him out of what the Bears can afford and should pay. It will begin an interesting trend if Berrian and Briggs, both drafted by the Bears, leave town at the same time. The Bears typically have been good at retaining their own players but this off-season will challenge that philosophy unlike any other has.

The Bulls fired Scott Skiles and paid him $7 million to leave. Do you see any way the Bears would react similarly with Lovie Smith if he starts slowly next year? --Josh K., Peoria.

No parallel exists. First, Smith would still have the bulk of his deal left and no way the McCaskeys would eat more than $15 million remaining on a contract. Second, Smith did take his team to the Super Bowl when Skiles, as terrific of a head coach as he is, didn't have commensurate success to spare him.