Meriting a Closer Look

For players on the fringe of making the 53-man roster the exhibition season can be the difference of making the team and being out on the street. If that's the case then Ahmad Merritt took a huge step forward against the St. Louis Rams.

For the past three years Merritt has been a player that needs to have good training camps just to make the team. This season is no different, and in some ways may be even more of a challenge because of the influx of young talent in the receiving core.

For a backup, special teams can often make the difference in a competition. Merritt has averaged 22.1 yards on his 65 kick returns, while netting 7.1 yards on 10 career punt returns.

Merritt has experience as a returner and is also an adept gunner on kick coverage. His 13 special teams tackles last year placed him third on the team in that category.

Thursday night against St. Louis, Merritt proved he's got another gear as he returned the overtime kickoff 87 yards to set up the game-winning field goal by Paul Edinger. Not only did the return make the win against the Rams possible; it may go a long way toward making his roster spot possible.

"I'm not thinking about what I need to do to make the cut or whatever," Merritt said. "I'm looking just to do what they ask of me when I get the chance."

The best case scenario for Jerry Azumah returning from surgery to repair a herniated disk in his neck is midseason, so in the meantime the Bears need someone to return kicks. Replacing the league's best kick returner and the Bears biggest offensive weapon from a year ago is a daunting task.

Bernard Berrian, the rookie wide receiver who provides Merritt's competition, had three returns for a 20-yard average.

"He's a good player and we knew that coming along," Lovie Smith said of Merritt. "We expect big plays out of him like that, but it's good to see him do it.

"We're going to need someone to do that while Jerry is out."

The Bears are likely to carry six receivers and five of those spots have already been locked down.

Marty Booker and David Terrell are the projected starters. Justin Gage, Bobby Wade and Berrian are all recent draft picks expected to grow into the offense.

While Merritt could claim the last receiver spot, he's never played a major role in passing game. In 29 career games he has just 19 receptions, but with the majority of the Bears wideouts being large targets he could add a different element to the group. He caught two balls for 16 yards against St. Louis.

"This is made for little quick guys like me, so that's perfect," Merritt said of his fit in the new offense. "We get a chance to get in the open field and run and catch the ball and everything and run after the catch, just like the Rams do. You can see what those guys can do once they get the ball."


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