Keeping Six Wide Receivers Not a Good Sign

Just before the Bears announced their final 53-man roster this past Saturday, there was heavy speculation that either Justin Gage or Airese Currie would be pink-slipped. However, both players made the team and are now part of a largely-unproven receiving corps that is six players deep. Bear Report breaks down the split ends, flankers, and slot guys to see who can step up and make an impact.

The Bears know what they are getting with Muhsin Muhammad. Even though his numbers were just about cut in half last season after signing as a free agent from Carolina, the veteran wide receiver provides a reliable primary target and capable red zone threat. As training camp opened back on July 27th, finding a complement for the former Spartan on the other side of the field was of paramount concern.

Yet there was are, six weeks later and just a few days before opening the regular season at Green Bay this Sunday, and the receiver dilemma has still provided more questions than answers.

Who can be counted on to make a catch over the middle on third down? Who can stretch the defense vertically and open up some things underneath? Who can take a short, high-percentage pass and turn it into a big play?

Most NFL teams carry five receivers on the roster, yet the Bears will open the season with six. Now it would be nice to think that the team kept all six because they were all simply too talented, and offensive coordinator Ron Turner has a specific role in mind for half a dozen guys. That's not the case. The Bears kept six of them because they still don't really know what they have after Muhammad.

Let's take a closer peek at them and see who is most likely to make life much easier on quarterback Rex Grossman:

The Veteran
It's hard to believe that Justin Gage qualifies as the veteran of the group, but that's indeed the case despite the fact that he's still only 25 years old. Entering his fourth year out of Missouri, he caught 31 passes for 346 yards and two touchdowns last season. Gage is 6'4" and 217 pounds, a quarterback's dream and a cornerback's worst nightmare simultaneously, but he has been wildly inconsistent in his career to date and seems to battle motivation issues from time to time.

The Track Star
Bernard Berrian is a two-year player out of Fresno State who has really showed some flashes from time to time, but he has had problems staying healthy far too often. He only caught 13 passes in 11 games last season, but the former Bulldog made an impact in the playoff loss to Carolina with five grabs for 68 yards. Berrian was the breakout star down in Bourbonnais the first few weeks of training camp, but his development has been slowed once again by a disturbing pattern of soft-tissue leg injuries.

The Prototype
Mark Bradley was just starting to show what he could do last season as a rookie before blowing out his knee in Week 7 at Detroit, reeling in 18 passes for 230 yards in seven games. The Oklahoma product has looked fantastic at times in training camp, but he is still finding his way after the injury and probably won't be 100% again until 2007. Of the five players vying for the starting role opposite Muhammad, Bradley probably presents the most upside and has the potential to be effective both as a deep threat and a possession receiver.

The Speed Merchant
Airese Currie is part of head coach Lovie Smith's much-balleyhooed 'redshirt class', a 2005 draftee who missed all of last season on injured reserve. A burner still yet to make his first NFL catch, he needed arthroscopic surgery on his knee during training camp but came back to lead the team in receptions the final preseason game at Cleveland. Currie probably should have caught his first career professional touchdown last Thursday night, as well, but he dropped a pass from Grossman in the end zone.

The Wild Card
Another potential household name this season for the Bears is Rashied Davis, the former Arena Leaguer turned NFL cornerback turned NFL wide receiver. He was a star the first week of the preseason with 91 yards and a TD catch from Brian Griese, and then he wowed the Soldier Field crowd with a 100-yard kickoff return for a score the next game against San Diego. Davis has the speed and quickness to create mismatches in the slot as the #3 wideout a la Antwan Randle El, but considering he was defending passes as opposed to catching them less than a year ago, Bears fans may have to quell their expectations of the 5'9" dynamo.

Coach Smith is still yet to commit to a starter on Sunday in Green Bay, and even after we find out who it will be, any one of the aforementioned five will have a chance to make an impact. They know what they have in Muhammad, but after him, the Bears appear content to throw their current crop of receivers at the wall to see who sticks.

JC


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