Bears to start Todd Collins vs. Panthers

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- With Jay Cutler continuing to recover from a concussion, the Bears will start veteran Todd Collins on Sunday against the winless Carolina Panthers.

Collins said Bears coach Lovie Smith delivered the news late Thursday morning. But given his exposure to concussions over a 16-year NFL career, Collins said he expected it.

"Jay went down with a concussion and usually with concussions, you want to come back fully ready before you get on the field again," Collins said. "I'm ready to go. I've been around for a while. It's a team game, but I look forward to go out there and do my part, and contribute to a victory."

Per NFL guidelines concerning concussions, Cutler underwent examinations Wednesday from team and independent physicians prior to practicing in a limited capacity. A team spokesman said the doctors examining Cutler "all agreed that participation in practice" went well, but wanted to err on the side of caution because it "was the right way to go."

The club plans to allow Cutler to participate in practice Thursday and Friday, before re-evaluating his status early next week.

Cutler suffered an NFL-record nine sacks Sunday night in the first half against the Giants and received the diagnosis of a concussion at halftime.

Collins, 38, left that game with an injury, too. On a hard shot in the fourth quarter, Collins sustained a stinger, but was able to practice with the first team on Wednesday -- when he shared reps with Cutler -- and on Thursday. Collins said he's fine physically and "ready to go."

Collins' teammates don't anticipate a drop-off in production, despite the veteran's age and relative inactivity.

"Todd's a veteran," center Olin Kreutz said. "Obviously I haven't worked with him a lot, but he leads in his own way. He works hard every day. He shows up. Veteran guys are obvious leaders and he has been. In the NFL, you can't help a guy do his job. If you do your job, that's the best way to help him. So that's the way we'll try to help him, to win our own battles."

That is imperative as Caleb Hanie is the only other healthy quarterback on the roster.

Based on research from ESPN Stats & Information, Collins will likely receive plenty of Panthers pressure from the interior and right sides of Chicago's offensive line. Those areas are responsible for allowing 12 of the club's 18 sacks, and of those sacks, only two have come when opponents rushed five or more players.

Pass protection isn't the only facet in which problems with the interior and right sides of the line manifest themselves. The Bears average 5.6 yards on runs to the left side, and that average drops to 3.1 yards on attempts up the middle and to the right.

Collins said he can't afford to worry about the offensive line.

"You can't really think about that," said Collins, who turns 39 next month. "If you're thinking about the protection and the offensive line ... I've got more and better things to think about because you simply can't control it. I'm going to let those guys do their jobs, and I'll do mine, and get the ball to the playmakers."

Collins appeared to do just that in his last significant stretch of action. Subbing for an injured Jason Campbell in Washington, Collins led the Redskins to a 3-0 record in the last three games of the 2007 regular season.

In those victories over the Giants, Vikings and Cowboys, Collins threw for three touchdowns and no interceptions, in addition to finishing with passer ratings of 104.8 or better in two of the contests.

"Todd has played a lot of football in the league, is anxious to get another opportunity to start in a game," Smith said. "So we're gonna pick up the pieces around Todd and play our butts off this week."

Offensive coordinator Mike Martz appears to trust Collins, who has an extensive background in the team's terminology from working with Al Saunders (who coached under Dick Vermeil and Martz) in Kansas City and Washington.

Martz said "that's our judgment" when asked why the club elected to go with Collins over Hanie, who appears to be a more mobile option.

"Todd's a guy who has played a great deal, won, and played exceptionally well at this level," Martz said. "He can play at a high level. It's just a question of getting him a little bit more familiar. I feel good about Todd in those pressure situations, and we anticipate him managing the game very well and playing very well. That's why he's the No. 1 [backup] and that's just kind of how we feel about it."

Starting right guard Lance Louis, who has been battling a bruised knee, indicated the club developed a game plan this week that might be tailored for Collins' talents. For the past two weeks, Bears coach Lovie Smith has harped on the club's need to focus more on the rushing attack.

Perhaps that's the avenue the Bears will pursue at Carolina.

"[Collins is] the guy stepping up. He's been preparing, and we're gonna protect him to the best of our abilities," Louis said. "The coaches have a good plan set up for the team this week. We're just looking forward to going out and executing it."

Cutler, meanwhile, will miss a start for the first time in his career because of an injury. Cutler started 57 consecutive games since Denver gave him the starting nod as a rookie in 2006.

Smith indicated that the club's medical staff began to notice symptoms of a concussion for Cutler on the second-to-last play of the second quarter, when the quarterback's head bounced off the turf while taking a sack from Aaron Ross, who came around the edge on a corner blitz.

Cutler had already taken a pretty substantial beating prior to the blow the club points out as the shot that caused the concussion. Early in the second quarter, Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora beat a block from tight end Greg Olsen to smash Cutler from behind, causing the ball to fly out and into the arms of Kreutz.

Cutler regained his footing after that shot and took steps toward the Giants' sideline before correcting himself.

Soon after, Cutler displayed somewhat of a dazed appearance when TV cameras panned to him sitting on the sidelines. In addition, Cutler's decision-making skills appeared to diminish with every passing shot. Cutler held on to the ball too long on some occasions, and failed to spot open receivers on others.

Smith said Thursday there's no reason to believe Cutler will miss more than one game.

"No, there's no reason to think that," Smith said. "He's making progress. You guys see him around here right now. Hopefully that won't be the case. Of course all we know right now is he's not playing this week. Hopefully he'll be ready to go next week."

Bears linebacker Lance Briggs said the team has to be ready.

"This is football," Briggs said. "Any player at any time [can get hurt] and the next guy has to be ready. That's the way this thing works. No, I don't want Cutler out. I don't want to see him out. But the facts are he's not going to be playing this week. Todd Collins, Caleb Hanie, will get the job done."

Michael C. Wright covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com. Information from ESPNChicago.com's Jeff Dickerson and The Associated Press was used in this report.