Offensive State of Mind

New offensive coordinator Ron Turner is not nearly as gimmicky as the wacky Terry Shea was. Turner also runs the West Coast offense, but he is much more committed to a between-the-tackles power running game, which should favor rookie Cedric Benson ahead of veteran slasher Thomas Jones.

Benson is No. 2 on the depth chart but that may be just the Bears' way of showing veteran incumbent starter Jones the proper respect. Not that Jones is a stiff, but Benson was the fourth overall pick in the draft, and he has shown better receiving skills than anticipated and the quickness and cutting ability to make the first tackler miss. It would surprise most observers if Benson is not the opening day starter.

Shea's was supposedly a tight end TE-friendly scheme, but Bears tight ends were unproductive last season, although their general lack of talent at the position may have had something to do with that. The same nondescript group is back this season, although big WR Ron Johnson, a waived free agent, is being used as an H-back and could factor as a receiver. Veteran TE Desmond Clark has been a big bust and has missed almost the entire off-season with a sprained ankle.

A healthy Rex Grossman returning at quarterback should make all the Bears' receivers more productive and help the offense work more efficiently. Backup Chad Hutchinson has the benefit of a full off-season in the program and will be better equipped to fill in should Grossman suffer another injury.

The Bears' starting wide receivers are almost certain to be different this season. Career underachiever David Terrell was released and Bobby Wade could be on the bubble. Free agent Muhsin Muhammad was brought in to be the Bears' go-to guy and veteran leader, and he quickly adapted to that role. The mission now is to find a legitimate threat opposite Muhammad to take some of the heat off him.

For now, Justin Gage is the other starter. He was the forgotten man in Shea's offense last season. But with Shea gone and Turner running the offense, Gage is working with the first team and again showing the big-play potential that he did as a rookie. Gage doesn't have great speed, but he is a 6-foot-4 former college basketball player (Missouri) who has the ups to take deep balls away from shorter defensive backs.

Second-year wideout Bernard Berrian appears poised to take a big step this season. He showed flashes last season as a rookie - mostly as a deep threat - but he has demonstrated much more consistent hands this off-season and a greater willingness to test the middle of the field, something he shied away from last season or was not asked to do because of his frail appearance. Berrian provides a speed dimension lacking in other Bears wideouts.

Kicker Doug Brien has replaced Paul Edinger after the five-year veteran suffered through two straight unacceptable seasons. Brien has always been very accurate but chose the most inopportune times for his misses. Like Edinger, Brien is not a very effective kickoff man.

For the second straight season big bucks were poured into the offensive line. Free agent Fred Miller was signed to play right tackle, allowing John Tait to move to left tackle, which was a massive headache last season. Roberto Garza was added as insurance in case Terrence Metcalf is unable to hold on to the right guard spot.


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