Stenstrom is starter by default, not design Ravens will oppose backup QB forced into lineup due to injuries

December 19, 1998|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Mike Preston contributed to this article.

It's easy for Chicago Bears coach Dave Wannstedt to pick his starting lineup these days.

"Everybody on our roster is playing," Wannstedt said. "If you're healthy, you're going to play. That expression, 'Those That Stay Will Play,' we're putting that into use."

That expression also explains why Steve Stenstrom will be the starting quarterback for the Bears against the Ravens tomorrow at Soldier Field.

When the 3-11 Bears went to training camp, he wasn't even expected to make the team, but a spot opened up for him when Rick Mirer left in a contract dispute.

Now that both Erik Kramer, the original starter, and Moses Moreno, a rookie drafted in the seventh round, are injured, Stenstrom is the starting quarterback virtually by default.

His backup, Jim Miller, was just signed by the Bears on Dec. 2 after being waived by the Detroit Lions at the start of the year.

Their third-string quarterback is a player they signed yesterday named Tom Beck.

"He's a young kid that bounced around on a couple of practice squads," Wannstedt said. "I don't know that much about him to be honest with you."

That's why Stenstrom not only needs to play well, but also needs to stay healthy. He's their only quarterback who was on the roster last month.

Stenstrom has a lot to prove because the scouting report on him is that he's a career backup.

Even Bill Walsh, who coached him in college at Stanford, said: "Steve would be in the Ty Detmer category as a quarterback and that's pretty good. It's not Brett Favre or Steve Young, but there aren't too many of those."

It doesn't help Stenstrom that the Bears are riddled with injuries.

Stenstrom They've lost six in a row -- Stenstrom started five of them -- and top draft pick Curtis Enis is out for the rest of the season with a knee injury and has missed the last five games. Wannstedt calls his absence "a killer."

Against the Packers last Sunday, the Bears got to the Green Bay 25 in the final minute, trailing 26-20. Stenstrom threw an incomplete pass on first down and then was sacked three straight times and the game was over.

Stenstrom, who broke many of John Elway's passing records at Stanford, refuses to believe the conventional wisdom that he belongs in a backup role.

He views himself as a starter.

"It's nice to get back in a rhythm of starting games. It's nice to get that feeling back. I'd love to get an opportunity to start someplace long-term," he said.

But his future in Chicago is still up in the air. There's much speculation he could be the odd-man out as a free agent at the end of the season because the Bears could draft a young quarterback in the first round and keep Kramer and Moreno.

"All I know is that I'm not under contract for next year," Stenstrom said. "If they decide to draft another young guy, it would have to be the right fit for both of us.

"The Bears would have to want me back and I'd have to look at the right situation for me because anybody in their career wants to be on the field and playing."

How he got to Chicago in the first place is a unique story. The Chiefs drafted him in the fourth round in 1995.

Since the Chiefs figured he wouldn't play in his first year, they didn't make him a market offer at the start of camp. At the end of camp, they offered him a $607,000 one-year deal.

They figured they'd cut him and put him on the practice squad for a reduced rate because no team would pay a fourth-rounder that much money in his first year. They miscalculated and lost BTC him because the Bears liked his potential and claimed him.

"It was kind of strange sequence of events that brought me to Chicago. I've had a great time and had a great experience," Stenstrom said.

What he hasn't done is played much. He broke his ankle in 1996 and had thrown just 18 passes coming into this season. He also doesn't have much mobility and has been sacked 17 times this year.

He would seem to be a good target for the Ravens' top two pass rushers, Michael McCrary and Peter Boulware, but they're saying all the right things.

"No quarterback is easy to sack," McCrary said.

Boulware said, "They're going to make sure they have him well protected."

The Ravens can't afford to take any quarterback for granted.

They lost to Craig Whelihan of the San Diego Chargers earlier this year and got the Buffalo Bills' Rob Johnson, who went to high school with Stenstrom, a $25 million free-agent contract by losing to him last year in his first pro start with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

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