Catching On

Before the start of training camp the Bears already have a good idea about their top four receivers. Their time in Bourbonnais and five preseason games could change a slot or two on the depth chart, but two young wideouts have separated themselves from the competition.

Muhsin Muhammad has been asked to be the bellwether for a receiving group that was arguably the least talented in the league last season. That's exactly what he's done. He's caught everything within his expansive wingspan and frequently owned talented young cornerback Charles Tillman.

Both of the wideouts that are fighting for snaps opposite Muhammad have had solid off-seasons.

"We really like where we are right now," head coach Lovie Smith said. "I think Bernard Berrian, Justin Gage and other players we've had in our system have really stepped it up. The second year in the system we should be a lot better, and I think that's what we've seen."

It's actually the first year under new offensive coordinator Ron Turner, but the wicked fast and quick-as-a-hiccup Berrian has served notice that he's more than a deep threat and hash mark-to-sideline receiver. He's caught the ball much more consistently and turned inside slants into long gains. The key for the spindly former go-to man for David Carr at Fresno State, will be how he handles the banging he's sure to get when the pads come on.

Gage, who showed big-play potential as a rookie in 2003 but was ignored by fired offensive coordinator Terry Shea last season, has been given a starting spot opposite Muhammad and seems determined to hold on to it.

Although Bobby Wade started 14 games and tied for the team lead with 42 receptions last season, he has become the forgotten man. He is expected to be the slot receiver in Turner's system. His sure hands make him a dependable third down target.

Second round pick Mark Bradley is a raw talent that appears will take time to develop. He has struggled to catch the ball since joining the team. Initially it will be his special teams skills that will make him an active participant on game day.

Airese Currie has yet to practice because he had surgery prior to the draft to repair a stress fracture in his foot. The fifth round pick could be the fastest receiver on the team, but missing time now is only going to decrease his chances of making an impact as a rookie.

Eddie Berlin has made it in this league because of a strong work ethic mixed with some ability. While he continues to give maximum effort, the amount of youth at the position will force him to make his mark on kick coverage. He's a special teams ace that could contribute as a receiver on occasion.


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