RSVP to Receptions

BOURBONNAIS - If Justin Gage seems like a new man, it's probably because he is. A new season has provided new life for the Bears wide receiver, who was MIA in 2004.

After a promising rookie campaign in 2003, Gage was lost in the shuffle last season in since-fired offensive coordinator Terry Shea's attack. With Ron Turner hired to put a charge into the NFL's worst offense, Gage is back on the map in the Bears' plans.

"It was really disappointing not being able to get the chances that you wanted or having an opportunity to make plays and put your team in a position to win games," Gage said. "When you see how the season turned out with the 5-11 record it really hurt, but there's not much you can do.

"You've just got to find ways around it. If you're not getting the ball, work on your blocking, or work on your route running."

Gage worked last season, but he seemed to get nowhere. After catching his first two career touchdowns in '03 and averaging 19.9 yards a catch, he never could figure out why he couldn't get into Shea's game plan.

Gage barely got into games -- let alone the end zone -- last season. He finished with 12 catches for 156 yards.

"Last year wasn't Justin Gage's fault, and who else deserves it?" Bears receivers coach Darryl Drake said when asked why Gage has been working with the first team thus far in camp.

With free-agent pickup Muhsin "Moose" Muhammad already expected to provide the Bears with their first big-play receiver in years, the addition will help not only Gage, but the rest of the young receiving corps that includes Bernard Berrian, Bobby Wade and rookie Mark Bradley.

"(Moose) is an all-around player and he's showing us how to get to his level and I think that's picking everybody up," Gage said.

The Bears are expecting good things from Gage, who's a big target at 6-foot-4, 210 pounds. Teams will be keying on Muhammad, who led the NFL last season with 1,405 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns on a career-high 93 receptions. After the Bears traded Marty Booker last season, the team was left with David Terrell to show leadership to the rest of the young receivers.

It didn't happen.

You could point the finger in any direction last season -- at Shea, at the fact quarterback Rex Grossman went down for the season in Week 3, at rookie coach Lovie Smith -- but the Bears can't get any worse on offense. Last season, the unit finished last in the NFL in scoring, total yards, passing yards, sacks, first downs and third-down efficiency. Worse, the offense produced only 19 TDs in 16 games, including just three from the wide receivers.

Now, with a legitimate threat in Moose leading the way, the Bears already see a change in attitude.

"Moose is the granddaddy out here -- we've learned a lot from him," said Berrian, who led the receivers with two TD catches last season.

"He watches us and if he sees something he'll let you know."

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