Calling all Game-Breakers

The Bears are considering using their first-round pick on a wideout that has "game-breaking" speed. While Justin Gage proved he has playmaking ability, averaging nearly 20 yards a catch as a rookie, he could be pushed down the depth chart depending on what area the Bears address with the 14th selection.

"Yes, I know that there's been talk about that," Gage said. "Coach Shea has mentioned we might be needing more speed in the receivers. That's how his system is constructed.

"If the Bears get another WR, then so be it. I'm here to compete for my spot. All of us view things that way. That's what football is about. There's a 53-man roster and the coaches try to get the best players available. I feel that I am one of those players. I can get it done and I think there's a place for me on this team."

Gage has spent most of the off-season working on his strength and conditioning. As the second mini-camp comes to an end, he can feel his efforts beginning to bear fruit.

"I'm tired, I'll certainly admit that, but when I think back to this time last year, there's a big difference," Gage said. "I could barely drag my self off of the field and into the training room last spring. This year, I feel that there is some energy left."

Gage might need all of his strength and speed to fit into Terry Shea's revamped offense when the Bears take the field in the fall. So far, it appears that Shea will be emphasizing QB Rex Grossman's penchant for the deep downfield pass, a situation in which the quarterback feels comfortable going to the former Missouri basketball player.

"Justin Gage is a tall, fast guy that can get down the field in a hurry, plus fight for any jump balls," Grossman said.

At 6-foot-4, 208 pounds Gage is learning to use his unique athletic ability to his advantage. There were several plays last season where he simply out leaped an opponent for the ball.

"I'm big to begin with and I can usually out jump the defenders. That should work even better this year if Rex is throwing more of the long pass plays," Gage said. "Plus, being as tall as I am, it's pretty easy for the quarterback to see me."

The fifth-round pick had 17 receptions for 338 yards and two touchdowns in his rookie campaign including a 57 yards reception. Gage is confident t that his numbers will only improve in 2004.

"Anytime you are a rookie I think you spend a lot of time just learning how to cope with the NFL," Gage said. "There's the quick pace and the intimidation factor. These guys are really good and they let you know it. You tend to over think situations instead of relying on instinct. Now all of this isn't so strange to me. I understand what's it's like out on the field and I can react accordingly. I have confidence in my ability and think that I am ready to make more of an impact this time."


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