Youth Rules in Chicago

Lake Forest - This Sunday, receiver Mark Bradley will become the third different rookie to start for the Bears this season. There is a good chance another draft pick will add his name to the list by the end of the season.

Kyle Orton has three starts under his belt. Despite a six to one interception to touchdown ratio, the Bears don't plan to pull the six-foot-4, 223-pounder unless he goes down with an injury. Oddly enough, it was Rex Grossman's broken ankle that began a chain of events that led to the fourth round pick moving from third to atop the depth chart in two weeks.

Safety Chris Harris became the second product of the 2005 draft to step into the starting lineup. He replaced six-year veteran Mike Green at free safety in Week 2. His play has been met with mixed reviews. He hasn't always been in the right place, but the sixth round pick out of Louisiana Monroe is getting better with each game.

Bradley had the most impressive preseason of any player on the roster, yet the Bears didn't feel he earned the chance to start opposite Muhsin Muhammad. As a second round pick with just 34 receptions in two years at Oklahoma, there was some doubt how quickly Bradley would be able to contribute.

GM Jerry Angelo said upon taking Bradley with the 37th overall selection that anything the team got aside from special teams production this season would be a bonus. While Bradley has just four receptions in three games, there is potential for a lot more with a two-time Pro Bowl receiver drawing the bulk of the attention on the other side of the field.

The first year player that was supposed to have the biggest impact was Cedric Benson. The fourth overall pick saw his chances of winning a starting job dwindle with each practice he missed during a 36-day contract impasse.

Benson's confidence didn't suffer from his lack of a preseason. Shortly after signing a five-year deal, he said he could be ready to start by the second game. Although he did get a career high 16 carries against the Lions that week, the Texas product failed to get on the field in a 24-7 loss to Cincinnati seven days later.

The bye gave Benson a chance to get more reps than he would during a normal game preparation week. However, Thomas Jones has gone over 100 yards rushing in four of his last five games, including two straight efforts.

Even with the production of Jones, it's inevitable that Benson will start a game at some point this season. It's one thing to sit a young quarterback and allow him to learn behind an established veteran - obviously not the case in Chicago - but to let Benson ride the bench would be a mistake.

The Bears have to get something out of their $17 million guaranteed investment in Benson. Jones has never started 16 games in a season. With past history as a guide, he will sit at some point this year.

When that time comes, Benson will get his shot. What he does with it will determine if he keeps the job or goes back to playing a supporting role.


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