Tight Battle at Receiver

Bourbonnais - There isn't a more interesting or competitive position battle in Bears training camp than at wideout.

Muhsin Muhammad is the sun in the solar system of the Bears' passing attack, the man the offense will revolve around. The Bears found their go-to guy when he was trimmed from the Carolina Panthers' bloated payroll at the end of February. Now the search is on for complementary players to draw some attention away from Muhammad and to add additional weapons to the offensive arsenal.

There are at least five qualified candidates but probably just four roster spots available. Any or all of the five could wind up starting. Coaches might have some tough decisions next month on cut-down days.

"That's a good thing," wide receivers coach Darryl Drake said. "We've got a little competition, and that's what you need, especially when you have young guys. We're looking forward to the competition playing out."

Last season Bobby Wade started 14 games and caught 42 passes, tied with David Terrell for the most receptions by a Bears wide receiver. But in the off-season, coaches decided Justin Gage would be a more productive starter because of his size and strength and because Wade is more effective playing in the slot.

Second-round pick Mark Bradley seems to have put a spring case of "skillet hands" behind him and has caught more passes in training camp drills than any wide receiver on the team. Bernard Berrian, last year's third-round pick, is the fastest and has shown more improvement this season than any of the top six wideouts. Five-year veteran Eddie Berlin has displayed sticky hands and toughness over the middle, and he's the best of the bunch on special-teams coverages.

A case can be made for each of the candidates, since each brings to the table valuable qualities in offensive coordinator Ron Turner's scheme.

A fifth-year veteran, Berlin is the most experienced of the Bears' "other" receivers. At 5-feet-11 and 195 pounds and minus great speed, it's easy to typecast him as the prototypical white, possession receiver.

Getting his deep speed on the field provides a dimension that most of the Bears' top receivers don't possess. Berrian has actually gotten stronger since last season, but he's still pencil thin. He has been impressive turning quick flips into long gains, but coaches may cringe every time his frail body takes a big hit. Berrian caught 15 passes for 225 yards last season, but most of those were outside the hash marks.

Bradley dropped so many balls in spring practices that it was impossible not to notice him. That hasn't been a problem during camp, though. Bradley probably has the most impressive physical tools of the Group of Five, with the best combination of size and speed, and he was drafted with the highest pick (39th overall).

Gage, the former Missouri basketball player, is the biggest of the Bears' receivers at 6-feet-4 and 212 pounds. And he still has his basketball ups, which enables him to take jump balls away from most defensive backs.

"Not the fastest guy in the world," wide receivers coach Darryl Drake said of Wade, "but he has as much savvy as anybody I've ever been around, (as far as) just knowing where to be and understanding the game. He catches the ball and just has a feel for the game, and he's tough. He fits, and he's a big part of what we're trying to do."

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