When the Texans used a second-round pick on Hollings July 10, it meant the Bears would stick with Anthony Thomas as their featured ball carrier, even though he slumped badly last season after an offensive rookie of the year campaign in 2001. The Bears have discussed the possibility of bringing former Falcon Jamal Anderson to camp but are leery of his history of knee surgeries and inactivity the past two years.
Angelo knows the Bears can win with Thomas running as he did after being picked in the second round of the 2001 draft. As a major player in the Bears' 13-3 NFC Central championship season, the A-Train rushed for 1,183 yards and averaged 4.3 yards per carry, using a solid combination of quickness, power and vision, even while lacking game-breaking potential.
But last season was a different story. Thomas averaged just 3.4 yards per carry and rushed for 721 yards, as the Bears fell to 4-12 and finished No. 32 in rushing yards and No. 31 in average gain per rushing play. Last year, Thomas seemed to lack the vision to find the few holes that a patchwork offensive line provided, and he did not run with the force that allowed him to consistently drive tacklers back upon contact during his rookie season.
"I don't think we need better options, we need better production," Angelo said when asked if an upgrade in personnel was needed at running back. "The people we have there, in particular Anthony, has shown he can do it. (But) Train's got to get back on track. That's what he's got to do, and I feel confident that given our line gets back in good stead, which there's no reason to believe it won't, I'll feel better about Train."
In 2002, starters Marc Colombo and Rex Tucker both suffered season-ending injuries. Injuries forced the Bears to employ five different OL combinations in a seven-week stretch during the middle of the season a year ago.
Both Colombo and Tucker are expected to be 100 percent recovered by the start of the preseason, although Colombo will start off at right tackle instead of left, where he played last season, because his knee injury required a follow-up procedure in the early spring.
Regardless, second-year man Adrian Peterson, a record-setting runner at Georgia Southern, will get more opportunities in training camp and in the preseason to provide the Bears with a change-of-pace back. Peterson was impressive late last season when, at long last, he was finally given an opportunity and rushed for 101 yards on just 19 carries for a 5.3-yard average.
Peterson rushed for 6.543 yards in college and averaged 6.6 yards per attempt with 85 touchdowns. But the sixth-round pick didn't touch the ball until the 13th game of the season. That won't be the case this year.
"I like the way Adrian Peterson finished the season," Angelo said. "I think he's going to be a good back in this league, and more importantly I think he fits us. Would we like to get maybe a little bit of a change of pace, somebody that creates some excitement? Yes."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I don't think A-Train is special. I think A-Train is a very good back, and (from) what I saw last year, he's the sum of the parts around him. Is he any different than probably 80 percent of the backs in the league? No. The key you want to ask yourself is: Can we win with him in his role. And yes we can. We did. That's where I'm at." -- Bears general manager Jerry Angelo on running back Anthony Thomas