Berrian Trying to Take the Next Step

The Bears have a young crop of receivers vying for the No. 2 job opposite veteran Muhsin Muhammad. Even though Bernard Berrian has the speed to be a playmaker, can he handle the punishment of being an every down target?

Berrian missed five games last season because of thumb surgery. The problem with his hands limited him to just three receptions heading into December. However, he caught 10 balls for 222 yards in the final five games of the regular season. While the team's success failed to carry over into the postseason, Berrian produced on the big stage. He paced the offense with five receptions for 68 yards against Carolina.

Unfortunately, the performance vs. the Panthers also showed why Berrian is hard to count on over the long haul. He had to leave the game with a hip injury after taking a hard hit.

"Being in and out all the time, missing games and then trying to get back into football shape (has been tough)," Berrian said. "Sometimes when you're out the mental process kind of stops sometimes."

If Berrian can ever figure out a way to stay on the field, he has the ability to be dynamic. Last year, he averaged 18.9 yards per reception and had two catches that went for more than 40 yards. As a rookie, he averaged 15.0 yards on 15 receptions. It's that kind of threat the passing game has lacked, ranking 32nd and then 31st the past two seasons.

For the second straight year, the six-foot-1, 180-pound Berrian has an opportunity to land a starting job. He will have to beat out another receiver coming off an injury in Mark Bradley, who is recovering from knee surgery.

"We both are going to make plays, it's probably going to come down who is going to be the most consistent," Berrian said. "I feel real good going into camp right now, I'm in the best shape of my life. Hopefully I can continue that into camp and just continue with the things I've been working on during the off-season."

Berrian could also play a prominent role on special teams. Heading to Bourbonnais, he's atop the depth chart at punt returner. When the Bears cut Bobby Wade last season because of his problems holding onto the ball, Berrian proved to be more than adequate. He averaged 8.6 yards on eight attempts and is also an option on kick returns.

Without addressing the receiving corps in the off-season, the Bears are depending heavily on Berrian's talent to turn into production. The biggest obstacle keeping him from living up to his potential appears to be staying on the field. Whether Berrian starts or not, if he can be active for 16 games, he's likely to fly by his numbers from his first two seasons in the league combined.

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