Briggs & Jones MIA

The Bears opened their first of 14 organized team activities on Wednesday, but two starters were curiously missing. LB Lance Briggs and RB Thomas Jones are both looking for new contracts and seem to be sending a message to the organization.

Although the OTA practices are voluntary, the absence of Briggs and Jones could be a sign of things to come considering each is represented by controversial agent Drew Rosenhaus.

"To me, right now it's about us putting our best football team on the field," Coach Lovie Smith said on the team website. "In order to do that, we need everyone here practicing. They're not here. That's hurting our ball squad to have two of our guys not here. I know there's business and it's volunteer workouts, but to me when the rest of your team is doing something, we need all of the team."

The Bears will hold a mandatory full squad mini-camp June 2-4 at Halas Hall. In the meantime, younger players are getting a chance to show the coaching staff what they can do.

"Someone has to take those reps, so this is a great opportunity for (running back) Cedric Benson and a great opportunity for (linebackers) Rod Wilson, Jamar Williams, guys like that to step up," Smith said.

Benson's presence and the fact that he makes far more money than Jones, who has two years left on his contract, means the backfield situation is more of a hot button issue. Despite Jones coming off a 1,335-yard rushing campaign, he's expected to compete with Benson for the starting job in training camp. Every practice, voluntary or not, Jones misses puts him behind. Much the same could be said a year ago when Benson missed all of training camp and the preseason before inking a five-year $17 million guaranteed deal.

The Bears have no replacement on the roster for Briggs, who is due to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. Even though the team spent a fourth round pick on Williams, the Bears are inexperienced at linebacker behind their three starters.

At this point the situation is still in the developmental stages, but if either Jones or Briggs skip next week's mini-camp it changes the dynamic. The Bears haven't had to deal with veteran holdouts. A season ago, the Eagles and Packers fell apart amid locker room controversy stemming from Rosenhaus' clients trying to publicly negotiate new deals.

With players due to report to Bourbonnais on July 26, how everything plays out over the next two months will have a major impact on the outcome of the 2006 season and beyond.

Roster Move
The Bears signed wide receiver Bryan McClendon Wednesday. The undrafted rookie free agent out of Georgia participated in Chicago's rookie mini-camp from May 5-7 on a tryout basis.

The 5-foot-11, 186-pounder led the Bulldogs with six touchdown catches last season and was third on the team with 35 receptions.

McClendon's father, Willie, was a third round pick by the Bears out of Georgia in 1979. The running back spent four seasons (1979-82) in Chicago.

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