Azumah Gives Bears Boost Going into Opener

Lake Forest – Jerry Azumah went through his first full practice on Monday since having hip surgery last month. When asked if he would be ready for the Washington Redskins, the cornerback had a promise in mind.

"I'm going out there and I'm practicing every day, doing the necessary things to get my body right and get it back in football form," Azumah said. "So I can guarantee I'll be ready for the Redskins."

Azumah missed the entire preseason for the second straight year. The Bears are trying to get him involved without rushing the process. It's unclear what role he will play in the season opener.

At the very least, Azumah is expected to be on the field when the team goes to the nickel defense. Nathan Vasher has started in place of Azumah throughout the preseason and is likely to keep that role for at least this week.

Azumah would prefer to also return kicks, but head coach Lovie Smith took a more cautious approach with the decision.

"Right now, we're really kind of waiting to see," Smith said. "Once I think a player is ready to play a snap, though, to me now it's a chance we could use him for everything, but we'll wait and see how the week goes and make that decision a little bit closer to game time."

Special teams coach Dave Toub said he would give Azumah the first crack at returning kicks. If he were unable to fulfill the role then the responsibility would go to Mark Bradley.

Considering the Bears are starting a rookie quarterback to open the season for the first time since 1954, the offense can use a boost in field position. Azumah went to the Pro Bowl in 2003 as a kick returner, when he averaged 29.0 yards per attempt.

"Of course every time he gets his hands on the ball, he's a threat to take it all the way," Smith said. "No one has quickness like him as far as breaking the ball and those things. He's just one of our best players and we need him."

If Azumah doesn't progress as expected, Rashied Davis would be the third cornerback on the depth chart. He was on the bubble, but his ability to return punts along with consistent improvement in coverage earned him a roster spot.

"I think he's gotten a little better every week and that's why he's on the 53 (man roster)," said defensive backs coach Perry Fewell.

Azumah, Vasher and Davis are candidates to play the slot. When asked who is the most likely to line up there on Sunday, Fewell kept it to himself.

"I can't tell you that, I'd have to kill you," Fewell joked. "I have to keep the Redskins (guessing). I can't let my opponents know everything now."

One thing is for certain, the Bears are a better football team with Azumah on the field.

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