Camp Battles

Although starting jobs usually aren't won or lost in May, the competition officially begins Friday with the first mini-camp of the year.

There are five positions that will be tightly contested from now through training camp.

Justin Gage vs. Bernard Berrian
Who will start opposite Muhsin Muhammad?

There is a good chance the Bears will have to shuffle players in and out of this position all season.

Both receivers have qualities that distinguish them from the other, but neither is the complete package.

Gage has been given the first chance to win the job because of his big play potential on the jump ball. Conversely, Berrian's speed will be hard to ignore if Gage becomes a one-route receiver.

Ultimately, the Bears are hoping second round pick Mark Bradley can develop quickly and become a starter. In the meantime, look for Gage to start because Ron Turner sees him as a worthwhile reclamation project.

Hunter Hillenmeyer vs. Marcus Reese vs. Joe Odom
Who will complete the linebacker trio?

While the Bears would still prefer to add a veteran in free agency, there are currently three candidates on the roster to play along side Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs.

Each had a chance to secure a starting role last year, but failed to impress coaches enough to keep the job.

Hillenmeyer is the favorite to emerge as the winner. Last year he started 11 games between two positions and finished with 90 tackles. He has the ability to rush the passer on occasion and still be strong in run support.

Reese has the athleticism the Bears crave from their linebackers. He could have been the opening day starter last year if a hamstring injury hadn't sidelined him during the preseason.

Odom lost his confidence after being demoted and unless something has changed over the off-season, he'll have a tough time leapfrogging two players.

Roberto Garza vs. Terrence Metcalf vs. Qasim Mitchell
Right guard is the only opening on the offensive line.

The addition of Fred Miller to the o-line got most of the off-season pub. However, Garza could turn into a long-term answer at guard. At 26, he's coming into the prime of his career. He also has the advantage of previously working in a west coast offense last season with Atlanta.

Metcalf briefly worked with the first team in training camp before an ankle sprain derailed his momentum. He finished the season starting the last five games at left guard.

The Bears have invested time and money in Mitchell, which leads one to think he will get a serious look. He's a natural guard that has been trying to play tackle the past two seasons. Now that the experiment is over, Mitchell could settle among a veteran unit.

Garza has missed time with a knee injury, but if durability isn't a question then he's the best man for the job.

Cedric Benson vs. Thomas Jones
Will youth prevail over experience?

In his first season with the Bears, Jones led the team in rushing and receptions. Yet, it will be a surprise if he is atop the depth chart by the time the season starts.

The fourth pick in the draft is not going to sit behind Jones very long. Benson is NFL ready, so it's comes down to how quickly he can learn Turner's offense.

Paul Edinger vs. Doug Brien
May the best kicker win?

Edinger not only has to battle Brien for his job, there are three other kickers currently on the roster. A season and a half slump put Edinger in the doghouse. While he would prefer to pursue other opportunities, the Bears plan on letting the competition play out in training camp.

Brien has been around the block more than once during his 11-year career. He's stuck around for one reason, a field goal conversion rate of more than 80 percent.

When it comes down to it Edinger will need to dominate the field for Lovie Smith to trust him with the kicking duties. Brien will be the safe choice, which is why he agreed to come to Chicago.

Lots of factors are taken into consideration when making these decisions. Age, contract status and durability can be issues as well. That explains why what a team should do is not always what will happen. What decisions are made between now and the end of training camp will shape the 2005 season before it ever starts.


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