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3 Chicago Bears Kordell Stewart is confident he can spark a team that needs him as much as he needs them

Sept. 01, 2003
Sept. 01, 2003

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Sept. 1, 2003

NFL Preview 2003

3 Chicago Bears Kordell Stewart is confident he can spark a team that needs him as much as he needs them

By Josh Elliot Projected lineups and PVRs compiled by David Sabino

Throughout training camp last year, Kordell Stewart, the
perennially embattled Steelers quarterback, could sense the doubt
creeping back into his coaches' minds, could feel their leash
tightening, and he thought, Here we go again. Never mind that in
2001 he'd led Pittsburgh to the AFC Championship Game and
finished fourth in the league MVP voting. Stewart knew that he
would be benched come that first big mistake. "Before the season
even started, the book was shut on my situation," says Stewart.
"In Pittsburgh I had to play perfectly--and that wasn't
realistic."

This is an article from the Sept. 1, 2003 issue

Sure enough, after he threw a costly end-zone interception in
Week 4 against the Browns, Stewart lost his job to Tommy Maddox,
whose play in leading the Steelers to a comeback win in that game
sealed Stewart's fate with the franchise. Even when Stewart
replaced an injured Maddox seven weeks later and led Pittsburgh
to two wins, he knew he was auditioning for some other team. "I
was ready to go," says Stewart, who was released last Feb. 26
after eight erratic seasons in Pittsburgh. "I know I have lots to
prove. I wanted to go where they'd have my back."

In Chicago he thinks he has found that team--a club that knows
something about ups and downs. In 2001 the unsung Bears were the
NFL's feel-good story, going 13-3 and winning the NFC Central.
With expectations duly raised last year, Chicago promptly caved,
devastated by injuries and an eight-game losing streak on its way
to a 4-12 finish. Even with healthy starters, offensive
coordinator John Shoop's run-oriented, short-passing sets had
been uninspiring, but last year, with 15 starting offensive
lineups and a patchwork line, the attack was plodding and anemic.
Chicago ranked 29th in the league in total offense (274.7 yards a
game) and tied for 29th in average gain per play (4.5 yards),
while brittle quarterbacks Jim Miller (released last February)
and 37-year-old Chris Chandler (now Stewart's backup) struggled
to stay upright. Enter the durable Stewart, signed to a two-year,
$5 million contract in the hope that he'll recapture his, and
Chicago's, 2001 magic.

"When we brought him in, it was, 'You're the starter,'" Bears
coach Dick Jauron says. "We've incorporated his running ability
into our game plans, which will make him that much more
dangerous. If he's not throwing the ball, he's coming out--but I
don't mean out of the game. He's running." Says wideout Marty
Booker, whose 97 catches and 1,189 receiving yards made him the
team's only offensive standout last year, "I can't wait to see
that first 30-yard scramble. It'll loosen everything up."

But Stewart can't carry the offense with his legs. The Bears need
a return to form by third-year halfback Anthony Thomas, whose
tale of two seasons is all too familiar: 1,183 rushing yards as
the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2001, 721 yards in an
injury-shortened '02. Pro Bowl center Olin Kreutz leads a line
that at least remained healthy through camp, though right tackle
Marc Colombo, sidelined since breaking his kneecap last Nov. 18,
is out indefinitely.

Stewart looked shaky at times during training camp--particularly
when making quick reads and taking shorter drops than he's
accustomed to--but Shoop and Jauron are quick to laud their
pupil's aptitude and enthusiasm. "He's playing in a QB-friendly
system," says Jauron, who insists Stewart won't have to worry
about giving way to Chandler or impressive rookie Rex Grossman, a
first-round draft pick out of Florida. "Our progressions are
simple, and he won't be doing things he's never done. I have no
reason to doubt Kordell. He's our guy."

Stewart beams when told of Jauron's vote of confidence. If all he
needed with the Steelers was similar support, he has no excuses
now. "I can't explain how good it feels to be appreciated," he
said after an August practice in which his every move brought
ovations from Bears' faithful in attendance, a regular occurrence
during camp. "I want validation. And I want it here." --J.E.

COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO SLASHING Stewart loosens up the defense with his scrambling, and the Bears won't discourage him from running.COLOR PHOTO: NFL PHOTOS BROWNCOLOR PHOTO

UNDER THE GUN

The Bears will no doubt miss linebacker Rosevelt Colvin, a
free-agent departure whose superior pass-rush skills freed middle
linebacker Brian Urlacher to make play after play. BRYAN KNIGHT,
a second-year player from Pitt, takes over on the strong side.
He's faster than Colvin, but his tackling is suspect.

ENEMY LINES
An opposing scout's view

"Brian Urlacher can make an average player look much better. His
pursuit is second to none. He's a notch below Ray Lewis, but only
because Lewis is meaner.... The pressure's on Mike Brown in the
secondary because the corners aren't that good. R.W. McQuarters
is O.K., but Jerry Azumah shouldn't be a starting NFL corner. His
natural instincts just aren't what they need to be. They'll miss
Walt Harris very badly.... At quarterback they didn't have many
choices other than Kordell Stewart. Chicago couldn't afford to
wait until June and take a chance on Brian Griese, and really,
who else was there? Stewart is there to bridge the gap until Rex
Grossman is ready.... It's hard to fault Anthony Thomas for his
stats last year, because no back could've produced behind that
decimated line. Stewart will soften things, and Thomas will
benefit.... Marty Booker is the most underrated receiver in the
league. Desmond Clark is a top-notch tight end, and Stewart will
look for him often. Clark could have a breakout year.... They
could finish second in the division or they could finish fourth.
Six or seven wins would be impressive."

SCHEDULE

Sept. 7 at San Francisco
14 at Minnesota
21 Open date
29 GREEN BAY (Mon.)

Oct. 5 OAKLAND
12 at New Orleans
19 at Seattle
26 DETROIT

Nov. 2 SAN DIEGO
9 at Detroit
16 ST. LOUIS
23 at Denver
30 ARIZONA

Dec. 7 at Green Bay
14 MINNESOTA
21 WASHINGTON
28 at Kansas City

SCHEDULE STRENGTH

NFL rank: 23
Opponents' 2002 winning percentage: .480
Games against playoff teams: 4

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP with 2002 statistics

2002 RECORD 4-12
NFL RANK (rush/pass/total):
OFFENSE 32/24/29
DEFENSE 26/24/25

COACH: Dick Jauron; fifth season with Chicago (28-36 in NFL)

ANTHONY THOMAS

POS. PVR ATT. YARDS AVG.
RB 73 214 721 3.4

REC. YARDS AVG. TDs
24 163 6.8 6

KORDELL STEWART[1]

POS. PVR ATT. COMP. %
QB 122 166 109 65.7

YARDS TDs INT. RATING
1,155 6 6 82.8

DAIMON SHELTON

POS. PVR ATT. YARDS AVG.
FB 379 0 0 --

REC. YARDS AVG. TDs
7 34 4.9 0
MARTY BOOKER

POS. PVR REC. YARDS TDs
WR 48 97 1,189 6

DESMOND CLARK[1]

POS. PVR REC. YARDS TDs
TE 233 2 42 0

MIKE GANDY

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
LT 6'4" 304 lbs. 13 11

REX TUCKER

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
LG 6'5" 315 lbs. 5 5

OLIN KREUTZ

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
C 6'2" 285 lbs. 15 15

CHRIS VILLARRIAL

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
RG 6'4" 308 lbs. 15 15

AARON GIBSON

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
RT 6'6" 390 lbs. 1 0

DEZ WHITE

POS. PVR REC. YARDS TDs
WR 175 51 656 4

DEFENSE

RE ALEX BROWN 40 tackles 2 1/2 sacks
RT BRYAN ROBINSON 34 tackles 1 sack
LT KEITH TRAYLOR 31 tackles 1 sack
LE PHILLIP DANIELS 43 tackles 5 1/2 sacks
OLB BRYAN KNIGHT 12 tackles 1 1/2 sacks
MLB BRIAN URLACHER 152 tackles 4 1/2 sacks
OLB WARRICK HOLDMAN 20 tackles 0 sacks
CB R.W. MCQUARTERS 43 tackles 1 int.
SS MIKE GREEN 118 tackles 0 int.
FS MIKE BROWN 84 tackles 3 int.
CB JERRY AZUMAH 82 tackles 0 int.

SPECIAL TEAMS PVR

K PAUL EDINGER 216 29/29 XPS 22/28 FGS 95 PTS.
PR BOBBY WADE (r)[1] 403 16 RET. 14.0 AVG. 0 TDS
KR AHMAD MERRITT 406 45 RET. 22.9 AVG. 0 TDS
P BRAD MAYNARD 87 PUNTS 42.3 AVG.

[1]New acquisition
(R) Rookie (statistics for final college year)
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 89)

"Urlacher can make an average player look much better. His pursuit
is second to none."