Kyle Orton . . . gunslinger?

Drew Brees used that word to describe his successor at Purdue, where quarterbacks practically are issued a holster and ammo clip with their playbooks.

But in the NFL, the Bears have yet to equip Orton with any schematic weapons that have much more range than a paintball gun. Given that, nobody should be surprised that with the Bears Orton has become known for taking what the defense gives him more than taking shots downfield.

Of Orton's 52 pass attempts this year, for example, 42 have traveled 10 yards or less, according to STATS. In 2005, 70 percent of his 368 pass attempts were of the same short, safe distance.

But to paraphrase football philosopher Dennis Green, is Orton really who we thought he is? Or does a high-risk, high-reward quarterback lurk somewhere within him?

"[At Purdue] he was kind of a gunslinger and has that mentality he could go out there and make a few mistakes, put it aside and move on,'' Brees said of Orton.

Perhaps to truly see what they have in their No. 3 quarterback, the Bears have to put aside the shackles and let Orton be Orton. Offensive coordinator Ron Turner remembers that guy from his days coaching against Orton at Illinois. Could Turner envision the day when somebody uses Brees' description about Orton the NFL quarterback?

"Yeah, definitely he could be one,'' Turner said.

OK, then, wide receivers at 50 paces. Weather permitting, Sunday at Soldier Field would be a good place for Orton to start taking target practice just to see.

Could he do enough against the Saints to affect the Bears' off-season thinking at quarterback? A good question, and these are too.

Now that Troy Aikman came out and said that "no matter how good or great Kyle Orton plays, the Bears still do not think of him as their starter next year," do you agree or disagree? --Dennis K. Troyler, Tulsa

Of the quarterbacks on the roster, the Bears still rate Rex Grossman ahead of Orton. Lovie Smith offered Orton high praise Wednesday for his play against Green Bay, which was deserved. But the quarterback situation is too fluid to draw any conclusions now. A good game Sunday will give Orton reason to say he should compete for the No. 1 job in training camp if the other quarterbacks on the roster are Grossman, if he's re-signed, and a rookie, if one is drafted. But too many if's still exist to count Orton in or out.

I keep hearing people mention restricted free-agent Derek Anderson of Cleveland as a potential signing who would fix the Bears. But I've tracked his games and he throws a lot of interceptions and gets a lot of yardage because he throws a lot when the Browns are behind. In your opinion, is he that much better than Rex Grossman or Orton to spend two high draft picks? --Howard L., Chicago

It's a valid concern. Anderson has thrown 18 interceptions compared to 28 TDs, which is a good ratio. But seven of those picks have come in his last four games when Anderson has come back to earth a little. In that span, he has posted a pretty pedestrian 65.4 passer rating and completed 52 percent of his passes. Sorry, but Grossman can do that and not cost the Bears a first- and third-round draft pick it would cost a team to acquire Anderson if the Browns stick the franchise tag on him. The Bears have a history of making sound decisions about players in the league thanks to the detail work Pro Personnel Director Bobby DePaul and his staff do. Speculation in Cleveland spiked again that the Browns might part ways with Anderson to make room for Brady Quinn after the team extended the contract of No. 3 quarterback Ken Dorsey -- considered Quinn's mentor. But for a team such as the Bears with so many other needs, they might be better off keeping their draft picks, re-signing Grossman, giving Orton a chance to compete and fix the offensive line.

What is the status of Brian Griese's contract and is he likely to return next year? --Anonymous

Oh, yeah, forgot about Griese. But then it's easy to given the ways the Bears have dismissed the classy veteran this season. He deserved better than to be embarrassed in the flap over the Philadelphia 2-minute drill and later when he was forced to lie to the media about his demotion. Griese has three years and $5.4 million left on his deal, and would be handy if expensive to keep for insurance for 2008 (he's due $1.4 million). But if the Bears draft a quarterback as they should and keep Grossman and Orton, then Griese becomes expendable and it'd be good business to let him find a new home in the league where he might be appreciated more.

Who's the best interview in the Bears locker room? --Joely Z., Fishers, Ind.

The two Bears whose oratory skills and personalities make them future TV possibilities are Brendon Ayanbadejo and Muhsin Muhammad. Tight end Desmond Clark is good but guarded. The most sincere Bears player in interviews is either Jamar Williams or Nathan Vasher. The goofiest is Tommie Harris. The most serious and relevant is Adewale Ogunleye. The biggest stand-up guy this year has been Alex Brown. But overall, Rex Grossman handles his media responsibilities in a professional way that puts many of his teammates to shame.

What kind of season did center Olin Kreutz have? People talked about Brian Urlacher missing the Pro Bowl but his omission for the first time in six years got overlooked. --James P., Skokie