22 Starters in 22 Days: Bryan Johnson

The Bears use their first offensive pick in the draft on fullback J.D. Runnels, which could be a signal to starter Bryan Johnson that it's time to perform or he could be headed out of town.

In two years with the Bears, Johnson has played in just 19 games because of chronic foot problems. His absence as a lead blocker hasn't hurt the success of the running game. Since sending a sixth round pick to the Washington Redskins in 2004, Johnson's struggled to be a threat as a receiver. He's averaged 3.7 yards on 19 receptions, while having just one carry for 5 yards

Johnson has two years left on his current deal that pays him a base salary of $625,000 this year and $675,000 in 2007. Now healthy, the six-foot-1, 242-pounder will go to the mini-camp next month atop the depth chart.

Backup Jason McKie missed half of the season because of a torn bicep muscle. While he's younger and more athletic than Johnson, McKie hasn't been a factor with the ball is his hands. In three seasons with the Bears, he has 17 receptions for 85 yards and two touchdowns.

Runnels, who was the 195th overall choice, will push both for playing time. Decent blocker who is more of a finesse fullback rather than a bruiser who can take on linebackers, but he has soft hands and is a reliable pass catcher, which makes him a good fit on the Bears' offense. Has not been used as a ball carrier, but caught 50 balls over his final three years for the Sooners.

Although Keith Belton is also still on the roster, he hurt his chances of taking a step forward by choosing not to go to NFL Europe. The Bears showed Craig Krenzel the door after he declined the same opportunity to play abroad last year.

It's difficult to conceive the Bears will carry three fullbacks on the roster because of their depth at running back. Special teams will play an important role in determining who makes the team.

The Bears will give Johnson every opportunity to keep the job because it took a draft pick to acquire his services. The same could be said of Runnels, which means McKie could be the odd man out.

Still fullback should be a wide-open competition in Bourbonnais. It could come down to who stays healthy.


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