Inside the Bears' Offense

The Bears have an opportunity to accomplish many things in 2006, but the ultimate goal of winning a Super Bowl could hinge on the development of the offense. There is reason for hope, but there are also questions to be answered.

All the offensive starters are back, although quarterback Rex Grossman started just once last season because of a fractured ankle.

Having Grossman healthy for an entire season would be the biggest boost for an offense that struggled all season behind rookie Kyle Orton, a fourth-round pick who wasn't even supposed to play but was forced into action after Grossman was injured in the preseason and Chad Hutchinson bombed as his replacement.

The most important offensive addition is backup quarterback Brian Griese, who has produced impressive results as a starter for most of his eight previous NFL seasons. With Grossman's extensive injury history, Griese's presence ostensibly would allow the Bears' offense to proceed smoothly should the starter go down again. The quarterback position is stronger top to bottom, since Grossman's return to health and the addition of Griese pushes Orton -- a 15-game starter last season -- down to No. 3 on the depth chart.

Because of Thomas Jones' absence from all of the voluntary stages of the Bears' off-season program, Cedric Benson has a better chance to move past him on the depth chart. Jones is coming off a 1,335-yared season but is dissatisfied with the $5 million he will receive over the final two years of the contract he signed after the 2003 season as an unrestricted free agent who was not in great demand.

The Bears believe they need two quality running backs in offensive coordinator Ron Turner's run-first version of the West Coast offense. Although Jones would like a trade and a new contract, he is more valuable to the Bears either as a starter or the backup to Benson. Even if Jones regains his starting spot, which is currently up for grabs, Benson will see a sizable increase in his workload over 2005, when he carried the ball just 67 times.

The offensive line returns intact with only a minor tweaking. Terrence Metcalf started 13 games at right guard, but he is currently playing behind Roberto Garza, who started three times at right guard last season and four times at left guard. Whoever doesn't start will likely be the swing guard and backup center.

Last year as a rookie, wide receiver Mark Bradley had begun to establish himself as a legitimate starter opposite Muhsin Muhammad. But he suffered a torn ACL on Oct. 30, seemingly jeopardizing his ability to come back at the same level this season. Bradley, however, appeared to be 100 percent recovered during spring practices and could be ready to establish himself as a reliable complement to Muhammad.

The Bears also have high hopes for skinny wide receiver Bernard Berrian, who came on late last season and showed signs of courageousness over the middle and of becoming more than just a sideline option. Airese Currie essentially red-shirted last season because of a variety of injuries, but he is the fastest player on the team and provides another big-play option.

Kicker Robbie Gould performed very well as a rookie (21 of 27 field goals), especially considering the sometimes-difficult conditions at Soldier Field, and his kickoffs were solid. But he could be pushed hard for his job by Josh Huston, an undrafted free agent from Ohio State with a big leg.


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