LAKE FOREST – A prime-time showdown against the San Francisco 49ers on Monday represents more than an opportunity for Jason Campbell to safeguard the Bears’ offense.
It also represents a chance for Campbell to cash in on his future.
“They’re all opportunities,” Campbell said Friday at Halas Hall, where he practiced with starters for the second consecutive day. “It’s definitely an opportunity.”
The Bears eliminated any ambiguities about two hours before practice when they confirmed that Campbell would start in place of Jay Cutler, who continues to recover from a concussion he suffered in Week 10 against the Houston Texans.
Campbell is no stranger to commanding a huddle in the NFL. He has started 70 career games with the Washington Redskins and Oakland Raiders, and his career passer rating of 82.6 is only marginally less than Cutler’s career passer rating of 84.1.
Yet as an unrestricted free agent this offseason, Campbell could not find a starting job.
Instead of signing a 30-year-old journeyman with a 31-39 record as a starter, teams such as the Indianapolis Colts, Washington Redskins, Miami Dolphins and Cleveland Browns spent first-round picks on young quarterbacks to lead their offenses.
The Denver Broncos signed Peyton Manning. The Seattle Seahawks signed Matt Flynn and drafted Russell Wilson.
Meanwhile, Campbell settled for a well-paid backup role with the Bears on a one-year deal worth $3.5 million.
A good start against the 49ers could help Campbell reclaim a starting job when he becomes a free agent again in 2013. Several teams such as the Kansas City Chiefs, Arizona Cardinals, Jacksonville Jaguars and Oakland Raiders could be in search of a new quarterback.
Instead of worrying about his future, Campbell said, he was trying to keep his focus as narrow as possible. The 49ers’ defense leads the NFL with 14.1 points allowed per game, and outside linebacker Aldon Smith is third in the league with 9½ sacks.
“You can’t play the game [thinking about your future],” Campbell said. “Guys are too good. This is a really good team we’re going against. They didn’t get to the NFC Championship Game last year by fluke. They’re showing this year why they’re a really good football team.
“With that being said, I can’t be putting pressure on myself to feel like, ‘This is your one game to dictate what you’ve got to do.’ I think everything happens for a reason. I think when the time is right, that will take care of itself.”
In the meantime, Campbell is eager to prove to the Bears that they made the right decision.
“I’m going to play as hard as I can,” Campbell said. “I’ve been staying up all night and days studying film and making sure I can catch up for the time that’s been lost. ...
“We’re a team. We’re a big unit here. I understand that these guys want to win as bad as anyone, and I’m going to try to do everything I can to do that.”