Briggs & Jones Expected on the Field

LB Lance Briggs and RB Thomas Jones are both expected to be in uniform ready to practice as the Bears open a mandatory three-day mini-camp today at Halas Hall. For now, it appears the Bears have dodged a major controversy.

Seeking new deals, both Briggs and Jones choose to skip the start of organized training activities last week in an attempt to send a message to the Bears. While Drew Rosenhaus represents both players, their situations are quite different.

The Bears have a solid starting trio at linebacker, which includes All-Pros Briggs and Brian Urlacher. A lack of quality reserves on the depth chart gives Briggs the upper hand in negotiations.

The six-foot-1, 240-pound Briggs is in the final year of his rookie contract and will become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. The two sides appeared close to a deal as the draft approached, but talks broke off and have yet to resume.

Although General manager Jerry Angelo contemplated selecting Briggs' heir apparent early in the draft, he waited until the fourth round to address the position. Jamar Williams is nowhere near ready to challenge for a starting role, which gives Briggs additional bargaining ammo.

Jones is coming off a career-high 1,335 yards rushing in 2005. He has two years left on a four-year $10 million contract and wants a raise. With Cedric Benson is waiting in the wings the threat of a holdout from Jones has far less power.

Jones will have to prove he's not a one year wonder. Even though he accounted for more than 36 percent of the offense last season, it took him six seasons in the league to go over 1,000 yards rushing. Behind a veteran offensive line, the Bears had three running backs average over 4.0 yards per carry last season.

Training camp should provide a fierce battle in the backfield that is as long as Jones reports to Bourbonnais.

In the meantime, the mini-camp represents the first time the entire team will all be on the field at the same time. Both sides of the ball return all 22 starters, but there still should be plenty of competition.

The offense will have an opportunity to work in Ron Turner's west coast system for a second season. The only major addition this off-season was QB Brian Griese. Still, a major improvement is expected from a unit that 29th ranked a year ago.

The league's second ranked defense should be even better. The signing of veteran nickel back Ricky Manning coupled with the team using its first five draft picks on defense makes the unit deeper.

Stay tuned to all weekend for the latest news coming out of Halas Hall.

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