Friendly Competition

Rookie WRs Justin Gage and Bobby Wade continue to show Bears fans and coaches that their recent successes are a good indication of even better things to come. On Sunday both made key plays and helped spark a strong Bears offense to a 20-7 win over the visiting San Diego Chargers.

Gage was utilized early by quarterback Chris Chandler as he grabbed a 24-yard pass to move the ball to the San Diego 48 and help set up the Bears first field goal of the day. In the second quarter, Gage caught a 28 yarder, gaining another first down. His total for the game was 2 catches for 52 yards, or an average of 26.

Wade was also up for the big play as Chandler's 10-yard completion to him early in the second quarter helped position the ball for an eventual Anthony Thomas rushing TD. He continued throughout the game as an offensive threat with a game total of 3 catches for 42 yards, an average of 14.0.

"The numbers don't really indicate just how important these players are becoming for us," said offensive coordinator John Shoop. "What they are doing is helping us to open the offense. It's always important to have as many options as possible to spread out the field. Anthony Thomas is back from his injury and has given us a very strong running game. Now as our WRs get better each week, it gives Chris Chandler some options that weren't necessarily viable before."

Both Wade and Gage have seen more playing time recently than they had anticipated when they began their rookie year. Early season injuries to key veterans of the WR corps gave these recent draftees the opportunity for extended playing time. It's apparent that these new players have made the most of it.

"You always just try to go out and do the best that you can do," said Bobby Wade. "I had a problem with my confidence when I dropped a punt during a game earlier in the season. It was really one of those horrible football moments. Coach benched me for a while and I was wondering when I would ever get the chance to come back in."

Confidence shouldn't be as much of a problem now for the athletic young player from Arizona as he continues to show flashes of being the type of impact maker that the Bears have been searching for.

"The key for me is getting more opportunities with each game," Wade said. "That's the only way that you can improve as a rookie. The best case scenario would be for me to get the ball on every down. Any new player would want that, but what we are doing now works well for me. I'm in and out of the rotation. Obviously the results are there as we are now getting wins."

Veteran quarterback Chris Chandler seems to be the spark that drives both Gage and Wade to be at their best on the field.

"Chris is patient and he understands football," Gage said. "He is a very comfortable person to be around. He knows our strengths and our weakness. Chris is the kind of a quarterback who reads the field and he will throw you a ball that is catchable. He helps you to be successful, which is incredibly important to those of us who are first year players."

Although Gage never hesitates to praise Chandler, he also feels that a little friendly competition with Wade is equally important in giving each player a competitive edge.

"Bobby and I know each other quite well," Gage said. "Our communication is excellent. During practice and during the games, we keep an eye on each other. We try to encourage each other to pick it up a notch when necessary. There is a little friendly competition going here. I know that I can't slack off when Bobby is watching me, and I'm sure that he feels the same when he is playing. He knows that I'll have my eye on him."

The key for both WRs is to keep the chains moving and the drives alive.

"We don't want any third and outs," Wade said. "The game is about momentum. We want to see that ball move down the field. I do this by being in the right spot and catching the ball. Justin has that great leaping ability and a good sense of where Chris will be throwing. If we can make big plays, it will give our offense that much more to work with."

Wade feels that the duo's potential can be unlimited but is well aware of how slowly both started during last summer's training camp.

"At the time, neither of us could see how we could get any worse," Wade said. "Some of our play was just terrible. It was so discouraging. But we pulled together and helped each other out. We worked with the coaches and learned the plays. There were a lot of adjustments we needed to make from college to the pros. It hasn't been easy, believe me."

Does either player see a future where much of the Bears passing game is designed around their particular skills?

"That's getting a little ahead of where things are right now," Gage said. "We were fortunate enough to get good playing time because several of the starters went out with injuries. They will be back sooner or later, and what we need to do right now is to make the most of every opportunity. I think that both Bobby and I can be impact players eventually. The more each of us can learn right now, the better we'll be."

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