Orton unfazed by criticism as Bears open minicamp two months early

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- On a strange day for football, Kyle Orton was unfazed by speculation, offseason comments or any challenges to his standing as the Chicago Bears' starting quarterback.

As the Bears kicked off a minicamp two months early and the weather on a windy March day soared to 70 degrees, Orton was asked about general manager Jerry Angelo's comments that the team needed to stabilize its quarterback situation.

Reversal of Orton

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Bears QB Kyle Orton had a strong start in 2008, leading the team to a 5-3 record. But after an ankle ailment affected his mobility, Orton's numbers weren't the same. Below are Orton's stats before and after he suffered the injury in Week 9:

First seven games

  » Completion Pct.: 62.2

  » Passing Yards: 1,669

  » Touchdowns: 10

  » Interceptions: 4

Last seven games

  » Completion Pct.: 54.1

  » Passing Yards: 1,195

  » Touchdowns: 8

  » Interceptions: 8

"I haven't talked to Jerry," Orton said Tuesday after a two-hour practice at Halas Hall. "I leave all that stuff to my agent. That's what I pay him for, so all my concentration this year has been getting healthy, getting in good shape and being ready to come out here and perform."

Angelo's comments came in December after the Bears finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs for a second consecutive season since they made the Super Bowl.

Orton passed for 2,972 yards while completing 272 of 465 passes and throwing for more touchdowns (18) than interceptions (12) after beating out Rex Grossman for the starting job. But a sprained ankle midway through the season hurt Orton's mobility.

Angelo said he believed in Orton but wanted to see more competition at quarterback. Chicago's current backups are Caleb Hanie and Brett Basanez.

"It starts with the quarterback. It's all about the quarterback," Angelo said. "You don't win because of wide receivers. You don't win because of running backs. You win because of the quarterback. We've got to get the quarterback position stabilized."

Orton said he wasn't upset or surprised by Angelo's remarks.

"No, I just really didn't pay a whole lot of attention to it," Orton said. "I know what I've got to do to get ready. I'm worried about myself and taking care of all the things I need to do to be the guy in this organization for a long time.

"It's the most important position. You've got to get it right, and he's got to know it's right. I think that I'm that guy. I feel like with my work and my play, I'm just going to make him believe that it's right as well and end up being the guy here for a long time."

There also has been speculation -- most of it in the media -- that the Bears should try to acquire disgruntled quarterback Jay Cutler, who has asked the Denver Broncos to trade him.

"I haven't heard that, to be honest with you. I don't know," Orton said. "There's rumors every single year, whether it's him or somebody else. I'm happy with where I'm at. I think the organization is behind me, and I know my teammates are, so that's really all that matters to me."

Bears coach Lovie Smith wanted his team to have a jump-start on the season and decided to hold the three-day minicamp early instead of after the April draft. And he made it clear that he's firmly behind Orton.

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"I think we got good play from our quarterback position before Kyle injured his ankle. So I'm excited about a healthy Kyle playing an entire year," Smith said, adding that Orton's not distracted by rumors.

"Kyle's not listening to much of that. He had a big smile on his face today," Smith said. "Quarterbacks in general, they're going to have to answer questions. That's just a part of the life of a quarterback, but it doesn't faze him much."

The Bears still need to find an offensive tackle after John St. Clair signed with the Cleveland Browns on Tuesday and John Tait has told the team that he plans to retire. Chicago has added a safety in Josh Bullocks and an offensive lineman in Frank Omiyale.

However, some of the Bears' biggest offseason changes have come in the coaching staff, where they have signed former Detroit Lions head coach Rod Marinelli as defensive line coach and Jon Hoke to coach the defensive backs.

Smith, who was the St. Louis Rams' defensive coordinator before being hired by the Bears in 2004, will take over much of the play-calling on defense -- even though Bob Babich will retain the title of defensive coordinator. Babich will spend his time with the linebackers.

Chicago's defense finished 28th (354.7 yards per game) in 2007 and 21st last season (334.7 ypg) under Babich.

Marinelli, whose Lions finished 0-16 last season, is a longtime friend of Smith's from their days coaching together with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Marinelli said he was glad to be back on the field and in meetings so quickly after being fired in Detroit.

"It's fun being in that room with your guys again," he said. "I mean it's a ball, I love that part of it. It's absolutely wonderful."

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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