Camp Brings Questions to Answer

As the Bears prepare to open training camp in Bourbonnais, doubt remains about aspects of the roster. Here's a closer look at the top three questions yet to be answered.

1. Find a worthy complement to No. 1 WR Muhsin Muhammad.
Free-agent addition Muhsin Muhammad caught 93 passes for 1,405 yards and 16 touchdowns last season.

No other Bears wide receiver has that many catches, yards or touchdowns in his career.

Justin Gage, a 6-foot-4 third-year player, caught 12 balls for 156 yards last season and has 29 career receptions for 494 yards and two touchdowns. He is currently the starter opposite Muhammad. Gage has excellent leaping ability and showed the ability to make big plays down the field as a rookie, but he regressed last season under since-fired offensive coordinator Terry Shea.

Last year's starter, Bobby Wade, caught 42 passes for 481 yards, giving him 53 career catches for 618 yards. He has yet to score an NFL touchdown. Wade is undersized and not that fast, but he can be an effective possession receiver if he demonstrates more consistent hands.

Bernard Berrian caught 15 passes for 225 yards and two scores last season as a rookie, and he has shown significant improvement in the off-season. He has excellent speed, but it remains to be seen if he can be a factor over the middle considering his skinny frame. If he can continue to turn short slants into long gains when the lights come on, he could be a major player in Ton Turner's offense.

Rookie Mark Bradley and Airese Curry seem like projects, even though Bradley was a second-round pick.

2. Decide on a starting running back.
For now it's Thomas Jones.

But the Bears didn't draft Cedric Benson fourth overall so he could be brought along slowly while watching from the sidelines. Presuming the former Texas Longhorn is in camp on time, or even close to on time, he should get the nod.

Chances are, the odd man out is not going to get nearly enough time to keep him content, even though the coaching staff keeps talking like that is a possibility. Offensive coordinator Ron Turner would prefer his starter to be an every-down type guy. Since Benson showed better than expected hands throughout the off-season, that increases the chance that he'll be the starter by opening day. Turner also prefers a power running game with the majority of the carries going between the tackles, which is Benson's forte.

Jones is probably a better fit as the change-of-pace guy, and he is considered much less durable than the workhorse Benson. Before last season, Jones had never carried more than 138 times in any of his four previous NFL seasons.

But Jones did carry 240 ties last season for 948 yards, and he caught a team-high 56 passes for 427 yards. He is not expected to give up the job without a struggle, so it could be an interesting summer.

3. Get a pass rush.

One common thread that runs throughout the eight losing Bears seasons in the past nine years is lack of pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Of the past 11 years, only in the 13-3 aberration of 2001 did the Bears accumulate more than 38 sacks in a season.

Last year's addition of defensive left end Adewale Ogunleye was supposed to boost the Bears' pass rush, but he hobbled through an injury-plagued 2004 with just five sacks, and never approached the level of play that helped him lead the AFC in sacks in 2003. It remains to be seen if that season was simply a by-product of playing on the same line as Jason Taylor or if Ogunleye is capable of double-digit sacks when he is the focus of the opponents' pass protection.

Defensive right end Alex Brown led the Bears with six sacks last season, but four of them came in one game against Kurt Warner, who refused to get rid of the ball that day. If Ogunleye is healthy, that should help Brown continue to improve his sack totals.

Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher should be turned loose more often this season after picking up 5.5 sacks in little more than half a season last year. He and second-year defensive tackle Tommie Harris could give the Bears pressure from enough different areas to create a pass rush that will set the tone for a defense that appears on the verge of taking a big step.


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