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An intriguing option

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(AP photo)
Chicago Bears quarterback Kyle Orton sets up to pass during the first quarter against the Green Bay Packers on Monday, Dec. 22, 2008, at Soldier Field.

Kyle Orton apparently is trying to thumb his way back to Chicago.

The shaggy-haired 29-year-old quarterback, who spent four seasons with the Bears from 2005 to 2008, was granted his wish to be put on waivers Tuesday by the Denver Broncos.

The possibility of a reunion with the Bears reportedly prompted his request.

Bears fans should learn more by 3 p.m. today, when the Week 12 waiver wire expires.

Will Orton return to the team that drafted him?

Maybe.

If Orton does return, will he help the Bears?

Maybe.

Few football observers doubt Orton’s ability. He has proved to be a competent starter in six-plus seasons, tallying 79 touchdowns, 55 interceptions and a 79.4 passer rating in 67 games.

Meanwhile, the Bears have a job opening for a veteran quarterback.

A broken right thumb is expected to sideline Jay Cutler for most, if not all, of the regular season.

That leaves the Bears with fourth-year reserve Caleb Hanie, who should be making his first NFL start on Sunday at Oakland, and rookie fifth-round pick Nathan Enderle, who never has played in a regular-season NFL game.

There are a few factors that could prevent Orton’s return to the Bears, but there also are obvious reasons he would appeal to them.

Waiver claim order

The Bears (7-3) are near the top of the NFL standings, which means they will be near the bottom of the NFL’s waiver priority list.

Several teams that are starved for a capable quarterback, including the Miami Dolphins (3-7), Kansas City Chiefs (4-6) and Houston Texans (7-3), will have an opportunity to claim Orton before the Bears’ turn arrives.

Dolphins’ fans in particular had taken to chanting “We want Orton” during the team’s preseason practices.

See ORTON, page 2C

New offense

Although Orton is familiar with the directions to Halas Hall, he would have to learn a new offense – fast – if he returns. Ron Turner was the Bears’ offensive coordinator during Orton’s four seasons with the Bears, but he was fired at the end of the 2009 season. Turner’s successor, Mike Martz, favors a thick playbook that requires a couple of seasons to master.

No mobility

Unlike Cutler or Hanie, who each are able to use above-average mobility to elude pressure in the pocket, Orton has cinderblock feet. The same can be said for plenty of talented quarterbacks (Matt Ryan, Philip Rivers, etc.), but a lack of nimble footwork could be particularly harmful behind the Bears’ work-in-progress offensive line.

On the other hand, Orton also possesses many qualities that would appeal to the Bears.

NFL experience

With Cutler out of commission for most, if not all, of the regular season, the Bears sorely lack an experienced quarterback to provide depth. Hanie has completed eight of 14 passes in the regular season since he arrived as an undrafted free agent in 2008, and Enderle is a raw prospect who spent last season playing for the Idaho Vandals. A dozen or so veteran quarterbacks are available on the open market, but none is as valuable as Orton.

Confidence of upper management

Even if Martz has no experience with Orton, and vice versa, the veteran quarterback has the confidence of some influential people in the organization: Martz’s bosses. The Bears went 10-5 after Orton was thrust into action as a rookie in 2005, and the team went 21-12 overall with him as a starter. Although Bears general manager Jerry Angelo dealt Orton to Denver as part of a trade package to acquire Cutler, the ex-Purdue Boilermaker left on good terms.

Short-term commitment

Orton’s contract expires at the end of the season, so the Bears could return to business as usual next season assuming that Cutler is fully healthy. At best, Orton would provide the Bears with a quality insurance option if Hanie were to falter as the No. 1 option. At worst, Orton’s presence could create a short-term quarterback controversy, and he could be ill prepared to run a new offense if he were promoted over Hanie as the temporary starter.

Bears bits: The Bears signed rookie long snapper and defensive end Jake Laptad to a three-year deal Tuesday. Laptad will compete for a chance to fill in for long snapper Patrick Mannelly, who is out for the season because of a knee injury. … The Bears also signed cornerback Joshua Moore and offensive tackle Josh Davis to the practice squad. Moore was the team’s fifth-round pick in 2010 and appeared in three games for the Bears last season.

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