There were mixed emotions inside the Bears locker room with the news that Jimmy Clausen would replace Jay Cutler as the team's starting quarterback. Cutler has started all 14 games this season, and has been the team's starter at the position when healthy since arriving in Chicago in 2009. That led some to be surprised that a change would take place.
However, there was also support for Clausen from the teammates that have seen up-close his abilities under center.
"Obviously, I was a little surprised at first to hear that," said right guard Kyle Long. "Like anything, it's the NFL and unexpected thing happen. We have to work toward a common goal, and that's getting a win on Sunday at Soldier Field against the Lions."
The decision to remove Cutler from the lineup came following Monday's performance against the Saints, when he threw three interceptions in a 31-15 loss. The defeat – the third in a row for the Bears – dropped the team's record to 5-9, guaranteeing a losing season. It also was Cutler's worst performance of the year, as he finished with a quarterback rating of 55.8, well below his season average of 89.5.
Many players said they still supported the quarterback, but also saw value in taking a look at Clausen. Signed by the Bears as a free agent in June, the fourth-year signal caller will be making his first start since January 2, 2011, when he played for Carolina.
"We all stand behind Jimmy. He's been improving since the day he got here," tight end Martellus Bennett said. "I'm excited for him to get a chance to show the world what he can do."Third-string quarterback David Fales was in the meeting when Cutler and Clausen were informed a change would take place. Fales was signed to the active roster last week, but was inactive against the Saints. The rookie has seen Clausen work as much as anyone on the roster and gave a scouting report of what Bears fans can expect from the new quarterback.
"Jimmy's really smart, a hard worker, he puts in extra time," Fales said. "He's been dialed in ready to go every week, so I'm really excited for him and he's going to do well."
Several Bears defensive players also have gained first-hand looks at Clausen this season. While he was the backup quarterback, Clausen would lead the scout team to prepare the defense on looks they may see during upcoming games. In those practices, he showed off strong mobility and a good arm, which will come in handy when he is the starter come Sunday.
Safety Ryan Mundy said the play of Clausen on the practice field should translate well to the game.
"Jimmy has been giving our first-team defense great looks throughout the year. We expect him to go out there and compete hard and try to deliver a win," Mundy said. "We'll rally while also keeping Jay encouraged, because you never know what can happen during the course of the game. So we just have to continue to stick together."
With only a few days until Clausen's debut, the roster must adjust quickly to their new quarterback while also focusing on beating their division rivals. Cutler's role has changed, but teammates expect that Jay will still be the strong leader he's been all season long now that he is gone to the backup role.
"Jay's a tough guy mentally, so I really feel like he's going to as supportive as he can be for Jimmy right now," Long said. "We're just worried about our assignments and doing the right things on the field."