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updated: 8/6/2014 6:07 PM

What if? Trestman-Cutler vs. Smith-McCown competition alive and well

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  • Coach Lovie Smith will bring his Tampa Bay Buccaneers to his old stomping ground -- Soldier Field -- to play the Bears on Nov. 12.

      Coach Lovie Smith will bring his Tampa Bay Buccaneers to his old stomping ground -- Soldier Field -- to play the Bears on Nov. 12.
    Associated Press

  • It didn't take long for quarterback Josh McCown to win friends, influence critics and take ownership of the starting job in Tampa, according to Mike Imrem.

      It didn't take long for quarterback Josh McCown to win friends, influence critics and take ownership of the starting job in Tampa, according to Mike Imrem.
    Associated Press

  • Bears coach Marc Trestman and quarterback Jay Cutler.

      Bears coach Marc Trestman and quarterback Jay Cutler.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
 

Phil Emery has had an active, actually proactive, two seasons as Bears' general manager.

Last year Emery successfully rebuilt the offense. This year he rebuilt the defense with a chance for similar success.

However, looming over Emery's tenure are decisions at an NFL team's two most important positions.

The first was firing head coach Lovie Smith and replacing him with Marc Trestman. The second was re-signing quarterback Jay Cutler at the expense of backup Josh McCown.

(For the record, I agreed that it was time for Smith to go last year but would have let Cutler follow him out this year.)

We'll see how these moves work out, perhaps as soon as this season.

As the Bears approach Friday night's exhibition opener with Trestman and Cutler, Tampa Bay has Smith and McCown.

So, now, what if the Bucs have a better season than the Bears do? More precisely, what if McCown outplays Cutler and Smith out-coaches Trestman?

"With a Lovie Smith-coached team, it's all about takeaways and possessing the ball," McCown said. "Fortunately, I was able to keep mistakes to a minimum last year (with the Bears). I want to do that again, because I really like where this team is headed."

The quote arrived earlier this week in a USA Today article with the headline "McCown gets Bucs' shot" and subhead "Journeyman feels at home as starting QB."

When the Bears play the Bucs in Soldier Field on Nov. 12 the primary storylines will be Smith vs. Trestman and McCown vs. Cutler.

My goodness, what if the Bucs beat the Bears on that given day? Even worse, what if Tampa makes the playoffs and the Bears don't?

All sorts of embarrassments are possible, like Smith and McCown winning a Super Bowl before Trestman and Cutler win one.

The Trestman-Cutler vs. Smith-McCown competition is alive and well and fraught with danger for Emery.

This didn't occur to me until reading the USA Today article, which quoted Bucs offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford as saying, "Josh is a really special guy."

Maybe the accolades would have been even gaudier in Tampa if Cutler were there instead of McCown.

Tedford would be raving about Cutler's arm and his work ethic and his grasp of the offense and his everything else. That's what coaches do to justify acquiring a player, especially a quarterback.

The 34-year-old McCown was quoted as saying, "I'm a late bloomer. I was 5-4 at 16 on my driver's license. Now I'm 6-4."

McCown has received nothing but praise in Tampa. Smith, who once was an assistant coach in Tampa, has been heralded as someone who can turn the Bucs into winners after they were 15-33 the past three seasons.

Smith wasn't welcomed so optimistically even when he represented hope while replacing Dick Jauron here 10 years ago.

Smith's reception in Tampa isn't surprising, considering that he was respected as an assistant down there and returned with a winning record as a head coach with the Bears.

McCown had to earn respect since signing with the Bucs, After all, he has been little more than a career backup in the NFL.

It hasn't taken McCown long to win friends, influence critics and take ownership of the starting job in Tampa.

"You bounce around, learn things along the way," McCown said. "My brother Luke (a New Orleans Saints backup) and I are the poor man's Mannings."

Peyton and Eli that would be, of course.

With a self-effacing sense of humor like that, no wonder Josh McCown is liked and respected down there the way he was liked and respected up here.

That Bears-Bucs game in Week 12 sure should be fun, interesting and another measure of Phil Emery's credibility as an NFL general manager.

mimrem@dailyherald.com

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