Caleb Hanie insists he won't be a game manager

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Caleb Hanie leaves the field following the Bears NFC Championship loss to Green Bay sunday evening. | Michael R. Schmidt~Sun-Times Media

A “game manager” is a quarterback nobody fully trusts. A game manager hands off to his running back often. If required to throw a pass, he throws the safest pass available, a pass so safe it appears to have a Secret Service detail attached to it.

The last thing Caleb Hanie wants to be known as is a game manager.

Too bad. That’s exactly what he needs to be Sunday in Oakland.

“I feel that just cements you in a backup role or a fill-in roll for the rest of your career,” he said Wednesday. “I’m going to go try to make plays. I’m not going to play scared. I’m not going to play ultra-, ultra-conservative. I’m not going to play dumb, as well.

“It’s a fine line between Âbeing conservative and making the plays that need to be made within the offense, and I’m going to try to find that.”

Stay away from that line, Caleb. You need to be as conservative as Sarah Palin on Sunday.

The Bears can beat Oakland if Hanie keeps the mistakes to a minimum. If he throws two interceptions, they will lose.

It’s not necessarily that the Bears lack trust in Hanie (though they might). It’s that they simply can’t afford to trust him. There is so much riding on the last six games that they don’t have the Âluxury of using this time Âperiod to find out where Hanie is on the Jay Cutler-Todd Collins spectrum. The idea is to make the playoffs, not to make him feel like a big-boy quarterback.

If offensive coordinator Mike Martz is as smart as he thinks he is, he’ll keep things simple for Hanie, who gets his first career start Sunday. Cutler had surgery Wednesday to repair the thumb on his throwing hand.

If Martz has a vision of himself as a Maker of Quarterbacks, it could get ugly.

“I trust him completely,” Martz said. “I don’t have any concerns about Caleb.”

You can’t help but root for Hanie. He has waited four years for this opportunity. He has played fairly well when called upon. He has some skills, as evidenced by last season’s NFC Championship Game. Seems like a nice, earnest guy who wants to succeed.

But this is the time for baby steps, not for strutting your stuff.

In the championship game, Hanie barely had time to think or be Âworried, getting the call in the third quarter to replace an ineffective Collins, who had replaced an injured Cutler. This time, he will have had a week to marinate in his nervousness.

“Sometimes it’s better to be there and just be shocked and, boom, you’re in the game because you don’t even have to think about it,” he said. “But you have all week to think about it now, so you get a little more nervous. At the same time, if you prepare the right way, I feel like you’ll be very confident going into the game.”

Now the stakes couldn’t be more obvious. Play well and you get to be a hero. Struggle, and you’re a second-string quarterback, maybe forever. Hanie is a free agent after this season, and his performance down the stretch will have a lot to do with how much money he will or won’t make.

He won’t have to worry about competition from former Bronco and Bear Kyle Orton, whom the Chiefs claimed off waivers Wednesday. Instead, the Bears signed Josh McCown, who has thrown six passes since the start of the 2008 season.

It’s not as if they have shown steadfast confidence in Hanie. He struggled in training camp and heard about it from Martz, who briefly elevated rookie Nate Enderle to the second team. Hanie was upset at the time.

“It’s been fine,” he said Wednesday of his relationship with Martz. “You have ups and down just like any good marriage. You have some bumps in the road. But Mike has been great this season. I think riding me hard first off last season has been nothing but helpful.

“Sometimes you are reluctant to take that criticism, but looking back on it, it’s always a good thing.”

Martz needs to make nice with Hanie and, more importantly, to protect Hanie from himself.

The Bears’ defense has been good. Special-teams play has been good. The running game has been very good, though you can bet the Raiders will throw a lot at people at Matt Forte. Who needs a high-wire act at quarterback?

In this case, low-level risk brings the reward.

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