Finding the right fit

It's a week of decisions at Halas Hall as new Bears coaches pour over film of offensive players to determine who can fit the mold for the new Chiefs-Rams style attack.<p>

The offense puts a greater premium on speed receivers and running backs who can catch out of the backfield than in the old offense. Some current players will have to prove they can adapt or seek employment elsewhere.

"I think we need subtle changes," coach Lovie Smith said. "Right now I'm really talking based on what I've seen from afar."

Wide receiver David Terrell will have to prove now that he can get open downfield and the other half of the team's Michigan 2001 draft duo, Anthony Thomas, must show he can catch passes.

"I remember back to our first year with the Chiefs," new Bears offensive coordinator Terry Shea said. "We had very few of those perimeter players still on the team as we started years two and three.

"Even when we started with the Chiefs, we didn't have all the right pieces to the puzzle. Maybe the Bears have more than we had three years ago."

Then again, maybe not. There are alternatives available to the personnel staff in free agency to replace non-fitting pieces.

San Francisco's Terrell Owens looms as the biggest wide receiver name and the biggest dollar guy with West Coast offense experience in the March 2 free agent market. Seattle's Darrell Jackson and the Browns' Dennis Northcutt may be the other biggest unrestricted names on the receiver market. Panthers receiver Kevin Dyson is also slated for unrestricted free agency.

Thomas had only nine catches last season, but says he can be a receiver and proved this at Michigan. The question is whether he can be the Priest Holmes type who catches it stride and moves smoothly in the open field. So far, he hasn't shown this ability.

"You can develop a back who may not have been exposed to the passing game, but that remains to be seen," Shea said, which should give hope to Thomas and Adrian Peterson. "We had a chance to have a back with the Kansas City Chiefs (Holmes) that really was the catalyst behind this offense who was not there when that staff first arrived at Kansas City.

"I know we've got some pretty interesting names in the running back position. Now we just have to kind of groom them and see if they can allow us to be as dynamic as we want to be with the passing game."

The Eagles' Duce Staley is the premier multi-purpose back in unrestricted free agency, and the Patriots' Kevin Faulk is also expected to be available.

Another golden opportunity exists to obtain an ideal back with West Coast offense experience for adventurous teams. The 49ers' Kevan Barlow is a restricted free agent, but it will cost a huge contract offer and first- and third-round draft pick as San Francisco has announced it will tender him at the maximum $1.9 million.

The Eagles' Correll Buckhalter is also expected to be available in the restricted market.


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