Despite the Vikings loss at Chicago yesterday, I'd like to at least extend my thanks to Kyle Orton for proving my "theory" (read: common sense observation) right about NFL quarterbacks: all they need is a competent and consistent coaching staff, and time.
If you're like me, you were a little stunned watching the Bears offense. Orton was running the no-huddle, confidently changing the play at the line of scrimmage as he saw fit, making accurate throws, taking calculated risks and not egregiously turning the ball over. Wait a second... Kyle Orton? The same terrible Kyle Orton who was told to just stay out of the way in 2005?
People forget one thing about Orton: he didn't suck in college. Look at his senior year stats - 3000+ yards, 60% completion rate, 31 touchdowns, 5 picks. That's against a Big 10 conference schedule. (Laugh it up, but that's a heck of a better track record than say... Alabama State's schedule.) He was drafted in the 4th round by Chicago, where like many other young quarterbacks, he was rushed into a bad situation with a bad offense. He still managed to do what he was asked until Rex Grossman came back from injury, at which point Orton faded back into obscurity, presumably for good according to most fans, as Orton's early performance didn't dictate any future NFL success.
Orton has evidently made the most of his time in obscurity, as he's had the opportunity to sit back and watch for a full season, including a Super Bowl, with exactly zero pressure on him. He's had the benefit of not having to endure any coaching or system turnover, which has lent the opportunity to really get to know his stuff. When the Bears announced that they were going with Orton over Grossman to start the season, the consensus was because of Grossman's poor performance. Many did not take into account that, in addition, maybe Orton had shown substantial progress.
On paper, developing a quarterback really doesn't seem THAT difficult: draft a guy whose played for an established program and held up well in big game environments, and give him some time to learn without screwing with the system or the coaching staff. Orton is not this year's only example: Tony Romo, Aaron Rodgers and Trent Edwards have all benefited from this approach, and their teams are that much better for it.
You know whose name you will not be seeing on that list? Tarvaris Jackson. In trying to develop a young quarterback in the Childress Era, the Vikings have gotten nearly every step wrong. They traded up to the 2nd round to pick a guy with marginal stats in a Division 1-AA conference. They started him WAY too early. They put all their eggs in his basket to start the 2008 season, and he fell apart amid substantial fan rancor. The only thing they've done right is keep their mindnumbingly pedestrian offensive system in tact, which in this case probably wasn't for the best.
So while the Bears are reaping the rewards with Kyle Orton, the Vikings are wondering what went wrong with T-Jack, hopefully at least understanding that they have to start all over with somebody else. Lets hope they learn from the Bears' example.