Berrian More than a Burner

Bernard Berrian came on strong at the end of the season. He proved not only to be a deep threat but caught the ball over the middle. The problem is at 180 pounds if he'll be able to handle the contact and stay on the field to be a reliable No. 2 receiver.

Berrian caught 5 balls for 68 yards to help the Bears get back in the game against the Panthers, but he had to leave in the second half with a hip injury. When Berrian exited so did the passing game.

"Not only is he fast, he's a great receiver, and I think people need to start talking about him as a good receiver, too," said QB Rex Grossman. "He's fast, he can stretch the field, but he can do a lot more than that."

Including his production in the rematch with the Panthers, Berrian had 15 receptions for 290 yards in his last six games. More than half of his catches and yardage came with Grossman under center. The two seemed to have chemistry, especially when it came to the deep ball. If Grossman looked down field chances were the ball was going in Berrian's direction.

"Rex was only in for a few games this year," Berrian said. "We had starters go down and things never settled down offensively the way we would have liked them to. We're going to all take some time off, get healthy and be back for more next year."

Healthy is something Berrian never was in 2005. He jammed both of his thumbs in training camp, which eventually led to him requiring surgery on his right hand. The Bears nearly put him on injured reserve, but decided to keep him on the 53-man roster. He missed five games following the procedure and only caught 13 balls on the season.

After two years in the league, Berrian has just 28 career receptions. However, a quarter of his catches have gone for at least 20 yards and he has a career average of 16.8 yards per grab.

For Berrian's longevity and for the sake of the offense, it might be wise to find someone else to handle the punt return duties. When the Bears had a hard time finding someone to simply hold onto the ball, Berrian took over the role down the stretch. He averaged 8.6 yards on 8 attempts, but the job opens him up to taking more hits.

Counting on Berrian to be the starter opposite Muhsin Muhammad is risky. Not only does he seem injury prone, he can be taken out of the game by a defense that is willing to be physical with him on the line of scrimmage. A quality jam by an opposing cornerback has been known to make Berrian disappear because of his lack of strength.

An off-season of training could help fill out his lanky frame. He turned 25 in December, so there's still time to for him to make a difference in the weight room.

"Based on what Bernard did (against Carolina), he was the one speed guy that we had this past year so we see him just expanding that role that he had," said coach Lovie Smith. "I like what he was able to do at the end of the season."

The question is whether or not Berrian will be around long enough to handle more responsibility in 2006.

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