Long Road to Recovery

Bourbonnais - Despite having to miss more than half the season Jerry Azumah is trying to put everything in perspective about an injury that could have been much worse.

"The neck is a serious part of your body, especially in football," Azumah said upon his first meeting with the media since having surgery to repair a herniated disk in his neck. "I guess the worst case scenario is something really bad could have happened but it didn't."

There's no new timeframe for Azumah's recovery, but if the original estimation of three to four months holds true he'll miss more than half the season. When pressed for a more specific date Azumah batted down the question as if he was going after a football.

"I can't put a time limit on things, I can't do anything like that because if they don't get met, there's even more talk," Azumah said. " I know certainly that I will be back and I will be back strong and healthy."

The Bears were counting on Azumah to compete for a starting job with R.W. McQuarters and be among the league's top kick returners. He led the NFL with 29-yard average a year ago, which earned him a trip to the Pro Bowl.

The amount of contact that goes with being a kick returner hasn't swayed Azumah from knowing what his role will be when he's healthy.

"I want to come back and do everything I was before, pick up right where I left off and help this team," Azumah said.

Mike Green continues to work with the first team at strong safety in the base defense and becomes the third cornerback nickel situations. Leaving Bobby Gray to fill in for Green at strong safety.

Although Ahmad Merritt had an 87-yard kick return to set up the winning score against the Rams in the preseason opener, Lovie Smith isn't ready to make a final decision.

"I just hope that we can get some other big plays from it," Smith said. "Of course Bernard (Berrian) who was a great returner in college. "We just feel like either one of the returns whether it's punt return or the kickoff returns that's an important offensive play for us also and we think we can get something from it."

With McQuarters having to move into the starting lineup there is also a question of whether the Bears will risk further injury by allowing him to return punts.

Picking it Up: Todd McMillon finished the final practice of training camp in impressive fashion. The cornerback intercepted passes from Rex Grossman and Craig Krenzel. With the injury to Azumah, McMillon moves up the depth chart at cornerback and could be considered an option in nickel situations.s

Adjustment Period: While the crowds at Olivet Nazarene University were slightly down this year, still approximately 75,000 fans attended practice over the three-week period.

Part of the reason for the drop in attendance could be attributed to the varying practices times under new head coach Lovie Smith.

"So as a result what we may have gone is from a day trip to a half day trip," said Gary Griffin, the school's training camp coordinator. "We may have had more people come back more often but not as many people stayed for the entire day because there wasn't as much time in between (practices)."

Negotiations between the Bears and ONU continue, as the two sides work towards renewing their partnership. As a sign of good faith, ONU has already agreed to move the start of the 2005 school year back a week to keep the student population down when the Bears are in Bourbonnais.


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