Offense: Positional Analysis

With the first practice of quickly approaching, it's time to take a closer look at what Ron Turner will have to work with as the team heads to Bourbonnais.

QUARTERBACK: Starter - Rex Grossman. Backups - Chad Hutchinson, Kyle Orton.

For the second year in a row, the Bears will gamble that they can make it through a season without a proven veteran behind Grossman, who has ended his first two seasons in the NFL on injured reserve. Grossman is coming back from a ruptured ACL in his right knee, but he is already back to full strength. During the off-season he demonstrated the quick release and accuracy that allow him to throw every pass in the playbook effectively. The organization is convinced Grossman is the franchise quarterback, and they've provided him more weapons to work with this season.

Hutchinson showed some promise and athleticism at the end of last season, when he was tossed into the starting lineup for the final five games, but he hasn't demonstrated that he's a reliable long-term starter if disaster strikes again. He should benefit from spending an entire off-season in the system, a luxury he didn't enjoy last season.

Rookie Orton isn't a great athlete and may need time to make the adjustment from the shotgun scheme he ran at Purdue, but he has ideal size and a live arm.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters -- RB Cedric Benson, FB Bryan Johnson. Backups -- RB Thomas Jones, FB Jason McKie, RB Adrian Peterson.

Benson is a between-the-tackles workhorse, which is exactly what new offensive coordinator Ron Turner wants in his offense, which will utilize a power running game. Benson doesn't have great size, but he has the strength to break tackles, the vision to see running lanes and enough speed and quickness to provide a big-play dimension. He isn't the starter yet, but that should happen sooner rather than later, when Jones' role is expected to be reduced to third-down replacement and change-of-pace runner.

Jones is an effective slasher and a legitimate pass-catching threat, as he proved last season with 948 rushing yards (4.0-yard average) and a team-best 56 receptions. But he may not be the right fit in Turner's scheme, and he has never been consistent or durable enough to play a full 16-game schedule.

Johnson is a willing and authoritative lead blocker. He has some ability as a receiver but won't do much after the catch. McKie is a similar player, but there is doubt how quickly he'll recover from a torn pectoral muscle. Peterson led the Bears in special-teams tackles last season but lacks size and speed as a runner.

TIGHT END: Starter - Desmond Clark. Backups - Dustin Lyman, John Gilmore.

Clark has never turned out to be the pass-catching threat the Bears hoped they were getting. He has been an inconsistent catcher at best who lacks the quickness and speed to get separation. The Bears' problem is that they've never had anyone any better at the position.

Lyman is an effort guy who will block does well on special teams but struggles to stay healthy and isn't more than adequate as a receiver.

Gilmore is bigger and more physical than the other two but isn't as a threat as a receiver.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Muhsin Muhammad, Justin Gage. Backups - Bernard Berrian, Bobby Wade, Mark Bradley.

General manager Jerry Angelo spent $30 million on UFA Muhammad, a nine-year veteran who put up career numbers last season (93 catches, 1,405 yards, 16 touchdowns). He carried the Panthers' passing game on his back last season and is expected to do the same for the Bears this year while a young group matures. The 2004 wideouts were so ineffective that the "go-to" guy, David Terrell, was released, and Wade could find himself on the bubble at training camp.

The Bears used second- and fifth-round draft picks on wide receivers Mark Bradley and Airese Currie, but both look more like projects than producers.

The 6-foot-4 Gage will get first crack at starting alongside Muhammad. Gage flashed big-play potential as a rookie in 2003 but was mostly ignored last season, but with his size and leaping ability, he has big-play potential and creates match-up problems for defenses.

Wade caught 42 passes last season, but he's a possession receiver who lacks size, speed and consistent hands but has some quickness and ability to work underneath the coverage.

Berrian lacks bulk and wasn't used much between the hash marks as a rookie in 2004. But he has very good speed and quickness. He looked like one of the most improved players on the roster during the off-season and can turn short flips into long gains.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LT John Tait, LG Ruben Brown, C Olin Kreutz, RG Terrence Metcalf, RT Fred Miller. Backups -- G Roberto Garza, G-T Steve Edwards, T Marc Colombo, T Qasim Mitchell.

Just as in 2004, two UFAs were signed to shore up a unit that was once again found to be lacking. The Bears were last in sacks allowed in 2004.

Right tackle Miller ($22.5 million for five years) allows Tait ($33.65 million for six years in '04) to move to left tackle, which was a mess last year. Brown returns for an 11th season, but the other guard spot will be decided in training camp. Metcalf is the starter for now, but he's had trouble holding on to a job in the past. Former Falcon Garza, who was signed for one year ($1 million), could end up beating Metcalf out. The line is anchored by Kreutz, a team leader who has been to the past four Pro Bowls. A bundle of money has been dumped into this unit, including $24 million for five years for Kreutz in '03, and $8 million for Brown (three years) in '04.

There are several young players in backup roles, but most of them have been found lacking as in starters. Colombo, a first-round pick in 2002, finally made it back on the field late last season after two years or rehab on his dislocated kneecap, but he didn't look like the same player.


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