Switch Hitting

The Bears currently have a handful of young players trying to change positions. While Jerry Azumah has proven it can be done, it's unlikely to be a quick transition.

Ron Johnson is a wide receiver by trade, but has been working with the tight ends. At 6-foot-2, 233 pounds he's more of a H-back that can be split outside on a linebacker. He's impressed this off-season with several nice receptions in traffic. A receiver's mentality is to want the ball, so the question will be whether he can be an effective blocker.

Talib Wise played wide receiver, running back and returned kicks in college. Now, the Bears are asking the undrafted free agent out of Nevada-Reno to lineup on the other side of the ball as a cornerback. Although he's a gifted athlete, moving from offense to defense is the most difficult change to make because of the mentality it takes to hit someone.

Cliff Washburn came to the NFL as a defensive end. Two years later, it appears his best way on the field is trying to protect the quarterback. During his second year on the practice squad he worked with the offensive line. The experiment continued when he was allocated to NFL Europe. He started seven games at left tackle for the Frankfurt Galaxy. The Bears had success with a similar situation, when James "Big Cat" Williams came to Chicago as an undrafted free agent. The interior lineman was converted to right tackle because his 6-foot-7 frame allowed him to engulf defenders. Washburn is 6-foot-5 and with time could prove to be a capable blocker.

Derrick Ballard also found going abroad a chance to gain experience at a new position. The 206-pound safety moved to linebacker, as he started every game for the World Bowl Champion Amsterdam Admirals. He's too light to play linebacker on a full-time basis, but could be a versatile option on the practice squad.

Rashied Davis did everything during his three years in the Arena League. As an offensive specialist, he 100 balls and scored 44 touchdowns this season for the San Jose SaberCats. He played both ways in 2004 and that's what intrigued the Bears. His first opportunity with Chicago will be as a defensive back that can return punts. There has been some talk that the team is considering using him on offensive as well.

Patience is the key when trying to convert a player from one position to another. Jerry Azumah left New Hampshire as the NCAA Division I-AA all-time leading rusher, yet the Bears saw him as a cornerback on the next level. He started two games as a rookie, but he didn't become a fulltime player until his fourth season. The Bears eventually utilized his moves as a running back, he became a Pro Bowl kick returner in 2003.


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