Projecting the Starters

There are a handful of positions open for competition heading into training camp, but here's an early prediction on what the starting lineup will look like come the season opener.

While Lovie Smith is sticking with Thomas Jones as the starting running back following the draft, the fourth overall pick needs to make an impact as a rookie.

Cedric Benson will quickly emerge as the top option in the running game, which will allow Thomas Jones to be used as a change of pace and third down back.

Jones has never been able to stay healthy for an entire season, so this might be the best role for him, if he can accept it.

The selection of two receivers that have sprinters speed means the Bears are looking for someone to stretch the field opposite Muhsin Muhammad.

However, Mark Bradley is still learning the position and is most likely to make an impact on special teams as a rookie.

Airese Currie is more polished than Bradley, but he will have to beat out Bernard Berrian, Justin Gage and Bobby Wade for a starting role.

At this time, Berrian seems to have the best combination of speed and readiness to play.

The only other opening on the offense appears to be at right guard. Terrence Metcalf, Roberto Garza and Qasim Mitchell will compete for the job.

Although Metcalf finished the '04 campaign as the starter, Garza could have the inside track because of his experience. All three candidates have the ability to play multiple positions, which should make the offensive line deeper than it was a year ago.

Offense
QB Rex Grossman
RB Cedric Benson
FB Bryan Johnson
WR Muhsin Muhammad
WR Bernard Berrian
TE Desmond Clark
LT John Tait
LG Ruben Brown
C Olin Kreutz
RG Roberto Garza
RT Fred Miller
3DRB Thomas Jones
3WR Justin Gage

The defense returns all 11 starters and the draft will not yield any immediate impact players.

When healthy, it's obvious who the starters will be at every position with the exception of strong side linebacker.

The preference is to add a veteran following the June 1st cut day, but at this time Hunter Hillenmeyer is the clubhouse leader.

The Bears have depth at cornerback, which could still lead to the release of R.W. McQuarters. On the other hand, without McQuarters one injury would leave the unit dangerously thin.

Nathan Vasher led the team in interceptions as a rookie and the coaching staff is infatuated with his ability to go after the ball. It will be difficult for McQuarters to hold him for the nickel back role.

Defense
RE Alex Brown
DT Tommie Harris
DT Ian Scott
LE Adewale Ogunleye
WLB Lance Briggs
MLB Brian Urlacher
SLB Hunter Hillenmeyer
CB Charles Tillman
CB Jerry Azumah
FS Mike Brown
SS Mike Green
3CB Nathan Vasher

Unless McQuarters is cut the Bears are set in the return game. The same can be said at punter and long-snapper. The most intriguing storyline will be if Paul Edinger will remain in Chicago.

The Bears signed two undrafted free agent kickers and allocated Nicholas Setta to NFL Europe. With three challengers come training camp, Edinger will have to impress to make the team.

Setta has struggled in Europe and it's hard to imagine either Tyler Jones or Nick Novak unseating Edinger. Ultimately the team will stick with the veteran and give him one more chance to prove his worth.

Specialists
PR R.W. McQuarters
KR Jerry Azumah
PK Paul Edinger
P Brad Maynard
LS Patrick Mannelly


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