Bears pass on signing Couch

Updated: October 27, 2004, 1:54 PM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

On a day when they decided Tim Couch will not be their starting quarterback, Chicago Bears brass more quietly settled on who will be atop the depth chart for Sunday night's home game against the San Francisco 49ers.

Barring an unexpected change of heart, the Bears will elevate rookie Craig Krenzel to the No. 1 spot, ESPN.com has learned. Team sources said Monday evening that the decision to go with Krenzel, who played in relief of starter Jonathan Quinn in Sunday's latest loss, a 19-7 defeat at Tampa Bay, was made after a series of internal meetings and evaluations.

Craig Krenzel
Quarterback
Chicago Bears
Profile
2004 SEASON STATISTICS
Att Comp PaTD RuTD Int Rat
19 9 0 0 1 34.8

The team officially announced Wednesday that Krenzel would start.

The decision was also made to stick with the three quarterbacks currently on the roster -- Quinn, Krenzel and Chad Hutchinson -- and to not seek a veteran free agent for now. That decision could change, based on how events transpire in coming weeks.

Coach Lovie Smith, who said Monday that both Quinn and Krenzel had solid moments against the Bucs, did not say then who would start the matchup with the 49ers.

A source inside the organization said that there was a consensus that, while Krenzel did struggle at times in his regular-season debut, he did enough good things to merit a chance to begin a game from the outset. The source said coaches and players felt that the rookie delivered the team a much-needed "spark" against the Bucs.

"Guys seemed to rally up around him and played hard when he was in the game," the source contended. "We feel he can do a solid job for us."

Earlier in the day Monday, and despite the miserable performance at the quarterback position since Rex Grossman went down with a season-ending knee injury on Sept. 26, the Bears decided against signing Couch, who auditioned for team officials and coaches last Friday and Saturday.

While it was not immediately clear why the Bears decided to pass on Couch, sources said his workouts received mixed reviews, largely because club officials believe his throwing arm is still not fully recovered from the soreness that plagued him in training camp. It is believed, as well, that, while Bears officials feel Couch has the talent to help them, they do not know if he fits well into the Chicago offensive design.

"The workout he had was OK," assessed Smith. "It was a good workout. As much as anything, we like the three quarterbacks we're working with right now, and we feel that three quarterbacks is all we can really work with right now."

Couch arrived in Chicago on Thursday evening, took a physical examination, and then threw about 50 passes in a Friday session. On Friday night, however, Couch experienced some discomfort in his right shoulder and, despite ice treatments for several hours, the pain persisted through a Saturday workout.

Agent Tom Condon of IMG Football told ESPN.com on Monday afternoon that he will have Couch visit again with renowned orthopedic specialist Dr. James Andrews at some point in the near future. Couch was examined by Andrews after being released by Green Bay at the end of training camp, and rest was prescribed.

"I really think we need to have Tim's shoulder re-examined and have Dr. Andrews set up a rehabilitation program," Condon said. "Apparently, he's just not ready to play yet with the arm like it is and we've got to get that corrected."

Couch, 27, was the first player chosen overall in the 1999 draft but, after five seasons in Cleveland, was released by the Browns this summer. He signed a one-year, $1.25 million contract with the Packers, but missed 10 practices with arm soreness and completed just 11 of 34 passes in preseason play.

He was released by the Packers in the final wholesale roster cutdown to the 53-player limit and has an injury grievance pending against the team. The former Kentucky star has appeared in 62 games, with 59 starts.

The elevation of Krenzel, a fifth-round draft choice, means this is the third straight season and fifth time in seven campaigns, that Chicago has used at least three different starting quarterbacks. The Bears had hoped, of course, that Grossman would provide the kind of stability they have not enjoyed, but those aspirations were thwarted when the former University of Florida star was sidelined by the knee injury.

Krenzel, 23, was a two-year starter at Ohio State and led the Buckeyes to an unbeaten national championship two years ago. He graduated with a degree in molecular genetics, is very bright, and has a good grasp of what the Bears are trying to do offensively. Whether he can execute the plan or not remains to be seen but the Bears are ready to give him the opportunity and he said he's ready to play.

"It's definitely much faster than college, but I feel comfortable," Krenzel told reporters Wednesday.

In Sunday's loss, Krenzel completed nine of 19 passes for 69 yards, with no touchdown passes and one interception.

Said Smith: "I thought he managed the game well. He made some bad plays, some bad throws, but I also thought he made some good decisions, made some good throws, and was not overwhelmed with what was going on."

The little-used journeyman Quinn, who offensive coordinator Terry Shea felt would be a solid backup to Grossman, has started the last three games and has thrown for just one touchdown pass. Smith challenged Quinn last week in practice when he increased the number of snaps that Krenzel got with the first-unit offense.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here Insider.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.