Ready for the next step

Justin Gage will learn from his third coaching staff in three years. The second-year receiver showed a lot of promise in his rookie season and would like to take the next step with the core of the Bears offense intact.

"It (the offense) has changed quite a bit," Justin Gage said. "It has a lot of options you use a lot of weapons in it. You've got a chance for a lot of people to make some big plays and I think with the talent on our team that's something we really needed."

New head coach Lovie Smith has brought an entirely new offensive staff with him to Chicago. Smith's offensive roots are attached to the Dick Vermeil and Mike Martz spread offensive styles in St. Louis and Kansas City, which will largely contrast the short dink and dunk passes made famous under former offensive coordinator John Shoop. Smith's offensive leader is now Terry Shea who was a big part of the Chiefs offensive schemes the last three seasons as quarterbacks coach.

This Missouri based coaching tree will have a big effect on the former Tiger receiver. With Dez White long gone, the Bears will have at least one starting vacancy. David Terrell is considered the favorite for the second slot, but with this new offense there will be many multiple receiver schemes that will put Gage on the field.

"Its hard to say right now what it's going to be like with everything we have going in," Gage said. "I think we'll have an opportunity to use a lot of things from a two receiver set to a five receiver set."

Last season Gage appeared in 10 games and had 17 receptions, two of which finished in the end zone. The second year receiver is slowly trying to adapt to the new offense, but one thing Gage has now is some professional experience to work with.

"What haven't I learned from a year ago," Gage said. "I am getting used to the speed of the game now moving a lot quicker."

A couple other components that are different from a year ago are quarterback, right tackle and guard, and a new backfield. Last season the Bears quarterback position was never in control with Kordell Stewart and Chris Chandler splitting time, while Rex Grossman waited in the wings. This time around, Gage knows there will be no quarterback derby and that Grossman will be the signal caller.

"I am excited for him," Gage said. "Rex is a guy that learns fast, he makes big plays and he makes great decisions I think he has what it takes to take the team to another level and with his leadership. I think we'll do good. I am anxious to see him play."

The Bears should have a much quicker offensive threat with John Tait and Ruben Brown opening up holes on the right side of the line for tailback Thomas Jones. The receiving core as a whole also has some depth now. With Marty Booker back as the main playmaker along with Terrell, second year player Bobby Wade, and Ahmad Merritt.

"I think with the guys we have in the receiver group several of us should have 50 plus catches," Gage said.

Last season the Bears ranked 28th in total offense, so those comments appear pretty optimistic from a player three months removed from a 7-9 season.

Gage's height should make him valuable to the coaching staff when the depth charts are formed. The six-foot four-inch receiver could definitely give opposing cornerbacks some trouble. He feels confident that he will be properly utilized this year.

"I feel like I can make some big plays," Gage said. "All I can do is go out and prove it."

With one mini-camp behind them the Bears receivers have begun to learn what the offense will look like come September.

"It will take some time," Gage said. "We just got to keep building on that and keep working and it will be sharper."

The sooner Gage learns and understands Shea's offensive style, the quicker he will be positioned into the lineup.


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