Gauging the Talent

Justin Gage showed promise as a rookie wide receiver, but last year became a frustrating game of hide and seek. Gage will get the first crack at lining up opposite of Muhsin Muhammad when the Bears' mini-camp opens next month.

The biggest note to come out of the first day of the Bears' rookie mini-camp is that Gage is currently atop the depth chart at wide receiver.

Not that Gage doesn't have the talent to be a starter, but he's coming off a year in which he was the ninth leading receiver on the NFL's worst offense.

Although Gage only caught had only 19 receptions and two touchdowns as a rookie, he averaged 19.9 yards per catch. He showed a knack for catching the deep ball with a swarm of defensive backs in the area.

In 2004, expectations for the six-foot, 210-pound Gage were high enough that he was to challenge David Terrell for a starting job in training camp. However, a hamstring injury slowed his progress and he seemed to fall out of favor with Terry Shea.

Fullbacks Bryan Johnson and Jason McKie finished the year with more receptions than Gage's 12. He failed to reach the end zone and he dropped to 13.0 yards per catch.

Offensive coordinator Ron Turner remembers having to game plan against Gage and sees him as a potential playmaker.

"I think he's got a lot of ability and I think he just needs to regain his confidence and get out there and have some fun and play up to his capabilities, which I think he'll do," said Turner, who faced Gage at Missouri when he was the head coach at Illinois.

Gage will get the initial nod ahead of Bernard Berrian for the starting job, while Bobby Wade currently sits fourth on the depth chart.

"Justin Gage has earned that right," Bears wide receivers coach Darryl Drake said. "We're going to give him that shot. He needs to go out there and he needs to do and perform and do what he needs to do."

Although Berrian is the faster of the two, Gage's size and leaping ability present a challenge for opposing cornerbacks.

"There are certain things Justin Gage can do," Drake said. "When we get in the red zone, throw it up to him. Give him the opportunity to make plays. Run him on some different things that he does well."


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