Positional Analysis

Last season the Bears offense was ranked tied for 26th in the league, thus the Bears are looking to improve on that number this season. One area, which could increase offensive production in a hurry, is field position.

Chicago didn't use a playmaker in the return game last year. R.W. McQuarters showed he had the ability to make people miss in the 2001 preseason as he returned seven punts for an average of 23.3 yards including a 58-yard touchdown. However, when he earned the starting cornerback job Dick Jauron was hesitant to use him in a dual capacity.

In the end, Leon Johnson emerged as the punt returner. The backup running back proved he could catch the ball and did an admiral job on punts, but lacked the elusiveness necessary to be considered a threat.

The same could be said for Chicago's kickoff return situation. Autry Denson and Johnson shared the majority of the kickoffs. The team averaged just 20.4 yards per return, which ranked 23rd in the league. The longest runback of the season was a 37-yard return by Denson, who was not re-signed after a critical fumble in the Bears playoff loss to the Eagles.

This season there are several candidates for the return duties including Johnson, Ahmad Merritt, David Terrell, and seventh-round draft pick Jamin Elliot.

The odds on favorites are Merritt and Johnson, who both have experience in the return game. It's doubtful Chicago would risk using Terrell on special teams because of an increased chance of injury. Elliot is a long shot to make the team, but could be a practice squad project.

Third-round draft pick cornerback Roosevelt Williams is also being considered for return duties. He averaged 25.3 yards per kick return with one touchdown while in college, but only returned two kicks during his senior season at Tuskegee.


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