Bears' Matthews won't stay away

Oft-waived QB wins starter's job

September 08, 2001|By John Mullin | John Mullin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

CHICAGO - There are unlikely success stories. And then there is Shane Matthews, who arguably defines the genre in the NFL.

An undrafted free agent out of Florida, he was signed by the Bears in 1993. He also was waived by the Bears in 1993. And in 1995. And in 1996.

All that changed in 1997. That year the Bears did not waive him. The Carolina Panthers did.

Now, for the second time in three years, Matthews is the starting quarterback for the Bears. Yes, those same Bears whose record book now lists Matthews as No. 3 in career passing, No. 1 in completion percentage and No. 1 in lowest interception rating.

Former Bears coach Dave Wannstedt and his staff were down on Matthews because of what they considered laziness. Now, the Bears' record in games started by Matthews is 6-6; it has been five years since the Bears posted a season record .500 or better.

Matthews has had his toughness questioned, from Wannstedt to the present. He started the 1999 season, but pulled a hamstring twice and was out of a job. Last season ended with him breaking a bone in his hand.

But there are different forms of toughness, and sticking with a career with so few reasons to do so is one of those forms.

"I've been around Shane a number of years," said offensive coordinator John Shoop, who, in his first year as Carolina quarterbacks coach, had a hand in keeping Matthews' career alive.

"I've been with him where he was the third quarterback. I've been on a team where he was cut and brought back the next week. I've seen that guy for an off-season sleep on a guy's couch and never miss a workout in Carolina.

"He's a guy that's made a commitment and he's a guy who's willing to do whatever he has to to have this opportunity."

Matthews was installed as the Bears' No. 1 quarterback after a preseason in which Cade McNown played his way out of town and Jim Miller missed too much playing time with a hamstring strain. He is not as athletic as McNown or possessed of the passing arm of Miller, yet he is starting against a Ravens defense ranked among the greatest in NFL history.

The reasons lie in what Matthews does well - he fits the West Coast offense, he's willing to throw the ball away, he gets the ball to receivers quickly, and he takes charge in the huddle.

Matthews was in a version of the West Coast offense on his first Bears tour. He was in another with Carolina. Now he is in another. It is an offense based on rhythm and speed, not intricate reads and gimmicks.

"With the West Coast, it's all about rhythm and getting the ball out of your hands: boom-boom-boom," Matthews said.

As for getting the ball away quickly, Matthews has been virtually sack-proof. During his short career, he has been sacked just once every 25.7 pass plays. This preseason, he was sacked once in 38 pass plays. McNown has been sacked once every 12 pass plays in his two-year career.

"I take pride in not getting sacked and I feel I don't get sacked very often," Matthews said. "So I don't really know how many seconds I take - just get back in rhythm, read and get it out of my hands. If I have to dump it to my No. 3 guy and he gets two yards, it's better to be second and eight instead of second and 10."

McNown, who let Matthews use a room in his townhouse late last season, drove offensive linemen frantic by stutter-stepping around the pocket, "patting" the ball and trying to decide where to throw it. Then he would too often try forcing a big throw late in a now-broken play.

"I want to put the ball into the other guys' hands, get it into James Allen's hands, Marty Booker, Marcus Robinson, let them make the plays," Matthews said.

And Matthews, like Miller, has respect in the huddle, which is earned principally by getting results, but also by how the huddle is run. And there's no mistake: It is Matthews' huddle.

"I do one thing personally that I've done my entire career - some people say it's good, some say it's not - but I'm the type of guy in the huddle who's telling everybody what to do," Matthews said.

"I call the play and then I'll say, `OK, Marcus, you've got the post here. James, you've got a check-flat.' It's their job, and they're supposed to know what to do. But as a quarterback, it makes me feel a lot better when I reinforce it."

John Mullin is a reporter for the Chicago Tribune.

Next for Ravens

Regular-season opener

Opponent: Chicago Bears

Site: PSINet Stadium

When: Tomorrow, 1 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 45/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (105.7 FM)

Line: Ravens by 10

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