"We had a couple bad games (returning kicks), but before that we were doing pretty good," Merritt said of the 2003 season. "In the preseason we had like a 30-yard average. We just started off pretty bad in the first couple games."
Merritt averaged 32.1 yards in the preseason but just 20.3 in the regular season before the Bears switched to Azumah, who averaged 29.0 yards, scored twice and went to the Pro Bowl.
But Merritt's 87-yard return vs. the Rams set up the winning field goal in overtime and gave him a leg up on rookie wide receiver Bernard Berrian, who averaged just 20.0 yards on three returns. However, coach Lovie Smith wasn't exactly effusive in his praise of Merritt.
"He's a good player; we knew that coming along," Smith said. "We expect big plays out of him like that. We're going to need somebody to do it while Jerry's out."
The trade of Marty Booker may mean both Merritt and Berrian will make the team, but they're competing for the No. 4 spot. If Merritt doesn't beat out the third-round pick for that position or the kickoff-return gig, he could be gone.
"No question the fight for the receiver position (is key)," offensive coordinator Terry Shea said. "Whether we carry six or five is really very intense competition right now."
In the second preseason game, Merritt got just one KOR attempt, but he took it 34 yards. Berrian picked up just 17 yards on two returns.
OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: Offensive coordinator Terry Shea has liked what he's seen during the preseason game from Adrian Peterson, who had not been consistently impressive during the first two weeks of training camp.
"(Running back) Adrian Peterson had a real flash in practice about a week ago, and he showed that same thing the other night," Shea said of the third-year player who is fighting for a roster spot.
Peterson, who is competing with Brock Forsey for the No. 3 running back spot, picked up 52 yards on 10 carries against the Rams. Forsey had 10 yards on five carries.
Peterson had a similar effort vs. San Francisco, rushing for 54 yards on seven carries. Forsey had nine attempts for 22 yards.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Backup QB Jonathan Quinn continued his impressive preseason play, completing 8 of 12 passes for 74 yards Saturday night. Quinn has silenced training camp critics who focused on his deliberate mechanics with efficient play in both preseason games and even in the scrimmage with the Rams midway through camp.
"He has a lot of athletic ability," coach Lovie Smith said of the fifth-round draft choice from Ohio State, where Smith coached linebackers in 1995. "He can really run. He has more speed than the rest of the guys in the group. The Hail Mary pass (vs. the Rams) -- just to be able to have the speed to get away to throw it last week (Was impressive), and his first pass throwing out of the end zone (showed) his poise."
Krenzel completed 4 of 7 passes for 33 yards in the preseason opener in St. Louis. He has quickly grasped the offense, which isn't surprising for a molecular genetics major.
"Of course he's an extremely intelligent guy," Smith said. "He's an Ohio State grad, so that tells you an awful lot right there. Of course, I'm biased. But he's exactly what you're looking for in a third quarterback, to grow each day. He knows that he's not going to play right away, and he knows that he's just getting ready for the future."
Krenzel, though, struggled Saturday night, going 0-for-5 in mop-up duty during the Bears' 20-13 victory.
--DT Tommie Harris appeared much more active in Saturday night's second preseason game, making two tackles and putting pressure on the quarterback.
--WR Bernard Berrian had just one catch for 15 yards in the second preseason game, but that tied for the Bears' longest pass play of the game. Berrian had one punt return for 12 yards, but he continued to look tentative on kickoff returns, picking up just 17 yards on two attempts.
--Cornerback Nathan Vasher had an interception Saturday night, two pass break-ups and a team-best six solo tackles.
--DE Claude Harriott, nearly invisible most of camp, had an interception vs. the 49ers Saturday night, which he returned 14 yards.
INJURY REPORT: OLG Rex Tucker is out 8-10 weeks with a dislocated elbow suffered during the final week of training camp.
--OG Terrence Metcalf has been out for the past week with a sprained ankle but should return to practice this week.
--Brian Urlacher (hamstring) is running but is not expected to play in the preseason.
--Jerry Azumah (herniated neck disk) is out 3-4 months.
--Running back Anthony Thomas (abdomen) is into his third week of missed practices and continues to be classified as day to day. He may be back this week.