22 Starters in 22 Days: Muhsin Muhammad

The Bears claim Muhsin Muhammad is their No. 1 target in the passing game, but his numbers will have to make a dramatic jump in order to justify that claim.

In his first season with the Bears, Muhammad had 64 receptions for 750 yards and four touchdowns. Although he led the team in all three categories, it's a far cry from what he did with Carolina in a contract year. He had 93 catches for 1,405 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2004, which persuaded the Bears to give him a six-year $30 million deal that included $12 million in guaranteed bonuses.

The play at quarterback had something to do with Muhammad's lack of production, as did the void of a secondary option. Still the 11-year veteran also dropped several catchable passes. After the season he revealed that he played much of the year with a broken hand.

As the passing offense struggled to a 31st ranking, Muhammad called out rookie signal caller Kyle Orton on more than one occasion. Now with Rex Grossman and Brian Griese atop the depth chart, Muhammad should have no more excursuses.

The two-time Pro Bowler may be past his prime at 33, but the Bears need him to be a stabilizing presence as their young receivers try to establish themselves in the NFL.

The speed of Bernard Berrian, Mark Bradley and Airese Currie should help take some pressure off Muhammad. Last season the trio combined to play in just 18 games because of injuries.

At six-foot-2, 215-pounds Muhammad is a factor in the run game. His frame makes him one of the better blocking receivers in the league. However, it also means he's not going to run by a cornerback. He has to beat his opponent with precise routes and an ability to fight for the ball.

While the Bears won't admit it, 2006 is a big year for Muhammad. If he struggles to improve upon his numbers from a year ago, he could be in serious jeopardy of becoming a salary cap casualty.

A possession receiver in his mid thirties with a cap figure anywhere from $3.6 million to $6 million from 2007-10 could be on the chopping block. Muhammad has only three 1,000-yard receiving campaigns during his career, and only one in the last five seasons. Adding a fourth to his resume would go a long way toward quieting the critics.

If any of the young receivers have a breakout season combined with another lackluster performance from Muhammad could mean his tenure in Chicago is short lived.


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