Here's to Your Health

The biggest thing the Bears hope to accomplish during 13 Organized Team Activities in June is coming away without injury.

The Bears have been bitten hard by the injury bug for the past three seasons, so there will be some changes this year.

Former strength coach Russ Riederer retired and was replaced by Rusty Jones, who spent the past 20 years with the Bills. The Bears have focused their off-season weight-lifting program on working smarter rather than harder.

The NFL allows 56 workouts, but the Bears have cut their number to 40.

Chicago finished last season with 12 players on injured reserve, including seven starters. Sixteen players who started at one point missed at least two starts last season.

Ten players finished the 2003 season on injured reserve and 11 starters missed at least two games with injuries.

Despite the off-season focus on improving the offense, there's little doubt what will be the determining factor of the season.

The Bears have the benefit of returning all 11 starters on defense, which will be the strength of the club.

Playing nearly half the season without four-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker Brian Urlacher didn't stop the unit from leading the league in third down defense.

The Bears were 5-4 with Urlacher in the lineup and 0-7 without him on the field.

The secondary was also hit hard by injury. In the second week of the season Mike Brown suffered an Achilles tear and missed the final 14 games. In same game, Charles Tillman went down with a knee injury that would sideline him for half of the season. Neck surgery forced Jerry Azumah to miss the opening quarter of the schedule.

The only benefit of the rash of injuries is young players got a chance to develop, such as Nathan Vasher and Hunter Hillenmeyer.

The determining factor of whether or not the Bears can make a run in the division will be the unit's health, which the biggest reason for the change in the off-season program.

"Our studies of other teams who have been more successful in terms of staying healthy throughout the season have shown that more doesn't mean better," Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said. "So we changed our off-season program considerably. We're doing different things in terms of nutrition that we have never done before. We've changed it up quite a bit."

The Bears expect fifth-round pick WR Airese Currie back soon. He could make his practice debut as soon as today after having surgery to repair stress fracture in his foot.

DE Adewale Ogunleye and CB Alfonso Marshall missed the recent mini-camp as they recover from off-season surgery.

Ogunleye is closer to being cleared than Marshall, who may not be able to practice until training camp.

Bear Report will take a closer look at the defense and what good health means to the unit in the upcoming issue.


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