Wideouts Receiving Criticism

Aside from aging Muhsin Muhammad, who will be 33 on opening day, the Bears don't have any proven receivers. However, they've got some young players who could become effective complements and possibly more.

That could be significant this year because it's not certain that Muhammad is very special anymore, coming off a relatively pedestrian 64-catch, 750-yard season. The rest of the Bears wideouts are inexperienced players with talent and potential.

After three injury-riddled seasons, quarterback Rex Grossman is looking forward to emerging as a legitimate NFL starter, with the help of some of the young receivers.

"I think we've got the guys right now that can definitely do the job," Grossman said. "I'm excited about everyone on our offense because when you go through the running backs and the offensive line there's nothing (we) need. And then wide receivers, we've got some young guys that can definitely step up and be stars in this league."

Mark Bradley, the Bears' second-round pick in 2005, appeared on the verge of stardom as a rookie before he suffered a torn ACL on Oct. 30. He caught 18 passes for 230 yards, including five for 88 yards in the first half of the game in which he was injured. If he's back to 100 percent, he's a solid No. 2 who could become a go-to guy.

Skinny, fragile Bernard Berrian has big-play speed, and he started to step up at the end of 2005. He caught 13 passes for 246 yards, an impressive 18.9-yard average, and for the first time showed that he could be effective on plays inside the hash marks. But it was one of those plays that he suffered an injury in the divisional playoff loss to the Panthers. Before the injury, he was the Bears' leading receiver in that game with five catches for 68 yards.

Six-foot-four Justin Gage was the team's second-leading receiver last year, with 31 catches for 346 yards, but he needs to take another step in his fourth season or he'll be passed by younger players.

Airese Currie is another deep threat who missed all of his rookie season in 2005 with injuries, but he could be a factor this year.

With a crop of young wideouts, it didn't come as a surprise the Bears decided not to address the position in the draft. Still, the Bears finished No. 29 in offense last season, yet failed to select an offensive player until the sixth round.

"The only position that people talked about was tight end," general manager Jerry Angelo said. "I think offensively we are pretty good everywhere else in terms of our personnel and experience. So (tight end) would be the position people might be scratching their heads about, why we didn't address it."

Since then, the Bears have signed undrafted tight ends Tim Day of Oregon and Cooper Wallace of Auburn, both of whom were three-year starters and could have a role in an unimpressive and unsettled area. Day is considered a better than average receiver but isn't as physical as Wallace.

Only time will tell if the offense can improve without much of an upgrade in personnel.


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