Leading the Way

Lake Forest - At the end of each season, a receiver is judged by his reception total, but there are subtitles to the game that go beyond the numbers. Part of being a wideout for the Bears is getting physical in the run game.

Despite the lack of a consistent passing attack for much of the season, the Bears have remained among the top running teams in the NFL. The rushing offense is 9th in the league and the Bears have16 carries of at least 20 yards, which is tied for the second highest total in the league.

Obviously the running backs get the credit for the big plays, while the offensive line is seldom recognized. However there are exceptions, C Olin Kreutz went to his fifth straight Pro Bowl for his work in the trenches.

The dirty work done by the wideouts is vital to the success of the ground game.

"A lot of times what allows running backs to get to the end zone on those long runs are blocks from the wide receivers," said WR Bernard Berrian. "Once they get passed that front seven it's all up to us to hold off (the defenders)."

On Berrian's 37-yard run on an end around, fellow wideout Justin Gage landed an important block on Atlanta's Jason Webster. Later in the game, Berrian returned the favor with a block that sprung Thomas Jones for a 31-yard gain.

At just 180-pounds Berrian has learned to become an effective blocker out of necessity.

"It is something that goes unrecognized by people," said receivers coach Daryl Drake. "As a receiver everybody looks to see if they can catch the ball and catch touchdowns, which is something they need to do, but at the same time in order to be the complete guy in order to make the offense work like it should you've got to be able to go out there and block those guys."

Gage has the ability to take on defenders because of size advantage over most cornerbacks. At 6-foot-4, 212-pounds he can lay a hit on a cornerback that will take him out of the play, but that also opens him up to make a mistake so discipline is crucial.

"I'm trying to knock people out when I have a chance and if it's an outside block and it's a smaller quicker guy I'll just try to get on him and ride him out (of the play), Gage said. "Once I get my hands on him I'm in charge, but I just try to keep my composure. Not trying to tackle him or let him go around me or anything like that."

Although the fact that Gage played basketball at Missouri for three seasons slowed his development in football, in this case it gives him an edge.

"Something that's prepared me is basketball, guarding guys you can't run up on faster guys too fast or they just go right around you and mentality that carries over in football."

For Berrian it's just trying to impede the progress of the opponent.

"I just try to get in the way for as long as I can," Berrian said. "I don't even really have to touch (the corner) just get in the way long enough for the ball to go by."

The Bears are lucky enough to have their best receiver willing put his body on the line for the overall good of the team. Muhsin Muhammad has gone to two Pro Bowls, but he's known for ability to block. He's trusted enough to not only take on corners and safeties, but also linebackers and occasionally defensive linemen.

"That's something that is a must, if you're going to play here with the Bears you've got to be to do that because we're going to run the football," Drake said.

The key is to now get the group more involved in blocking for one another after a fellow receiver catches the ball.


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