Most of the Work Centers on Offense

Even though the Bears return all 22 starters from the NFC North championship squad, there are questions to be answered in training camp. Here's a look at what the team needs to accomplish during their time in Bourbonnais.

  • Develop an NFL-caliber receiving corps: Aside from aging Muhsin Muhammad, who will be 33 on opening day, the Bears don't have any special receivers. And it's not for sure that Muhammad is very special anymore, after his 64-catch, 750-yard 2005 season.

    The rest of the Bears' wideouts are young players with assorted physical skills and heavy on potential but -- so far -- light on production. Mark Bradley appeared on the verge of stardom as a rookie last season when he suffered a torn ACL on Oct. 30. If he's back to 100 percent, as he appeared in OTA's, he could be a solid No. 2. Skinny, fragile Bernard Berrian has big-play speed, and he started to step up at the end of '05. Six-foot-four Justin Gage was the team's second-leading receiver last year, but he needs to take another step in his fourth season or he'll be passed up by younger players like Airese Currie, another deep threat who missed all of his rookie season with injuries.

    The Bears' conglomeration of tight ends may be one of the league's weakest. Incumbent Desmond Clark's production keeps declining (24 catches for 229 yards last year), and the Bears struck out in the draft, when 17 tight ends were taken. They've promised to use Clark more this season, but that's not the first time Bears fans have heard that about a tight end.

  • Keep Rex Grossman healthy: Last season, the perennial quarterback of the future suffered a fractured ankle in the second preseason game and didn't play until Game 15 of the regular season. A year earlier he was lost for the season in the third regular season game.

    The mere presence of a healthy Grossman for 16 games should guarantee improvement on the offense. Grossman is in his fourth year, although this is the first time the Bears' offensive system and coordinator haven't changed. Grossman appears to be the real deal, and he doesn't lack for confidence.

    "I know that you've got to perform in this league to keep your job," Grossman said after veteran Brian Griese was signed to be his backup, "and that's what I plan on doing."

    Grossman gets rid of the ball faster than most NFL quarterbacks, reads defenses quickly and gets the ball to the right receiver, usually with great accuracy. But, because of injuries in each of his three previous seasons, he hasn't played enough -- just seven starts -- to justify the Bears' faith in him.

  • Decide who is the featured runner: Thomas Jones rushed for a career-high 1,335 yards last season, but he is unhappy with the two years left on a four-year, $10 million deal -- so much so that he boycotted all voluntary activities in the spring and summer. Jones isn't happy that he's making far less money than Cedric Benson, the fourth overall pick in the 2005 draft, who has a five-year, $35 million contract. Jones remains arguably the hardest worker on the team, so there is no doubt that he'll arrive in camp in shape. Last season he seemed to use Benson's presence as incentive for a career year. Benson wasn't happy with the 67 carries he got last year, but he got a lot of work with the first team in the off-season while Jones was absent. If they aren't on equal footing entering camp, they're close.

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