The Bears broke their 2002 training camp in Bourbonnais on Wednesday, August 14, resume preseason play on Friday, August 16 against the St. Louis Rams at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis. Kickoff for Friday's game is scheduled for 7:05 PM Chicago time.
The Bears, 0-1 in the preseason after dropping their home opener to Denver 27-3 last Saturday (8/10) in Champaign, take to the road for the first time in 2002 to face the St. Louis Rams (0-1). The Rams opened the 2002 preseason with a 28-26 loss to the Tennessee Titans in Memphis Saturday (8/10).
Both teams enter this season with lofty expectations, each winning their respective divisions and earning first-round byes in the 2001 playoffs.
After a somewhat disappointing 2000 season in which the Rams came in second place in the NFC West, St. Louis bounced back in a big way last year, returning to the Super Bowl for the second time in three years. In his second year as head coach, Mike Martz showed his offensive genius by leading the Rams to a No. 1 ranking in total offense, passing and points scored. Offensive coordinator Bobby Jackson helped the offensive attack by exhibiting a balance on offense using his talented weapons in QB Kurt Warner, RB Marshall Faulk, and a slew of WR burners including Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce.
After an injury-riddled 2000 campaign, Warner returned to all-Pro form in 2001, leading the NFL with 4,830 yards, 36 touchdowns and a 101.4 quarterback rating. Warner will be backed up by Jamie Martin and newcomers Marc Bulger and Ryan Helming. Running back Marshall Faulk returns after a Pro Bowl year in which he ran for 1,382 yards and scored 12 touchdowns, as well as catching a team-high 83 passes for 765 yards and another nine scores. Third-year runner Trung Canidate provides insurance behind Faulk, rushing for over 400 yards last season. Pro Bowlers Holt and Bruce lead the receiving corps after both catching over 1,000 yards in passes last season. Ricky Proehl and newcomer Terrence Wilkins will also provide targets for Warner this season. Rookie Eric Crouch will be making the transition from Heisman Trophy quarterback to NFL wideout. TE Ernie Conwell will look to improve on an excellent 2001 campaign, which saw him compiling over 400 yards in receptions and four touchdowns. The Rams' offensive line will be led by Pro-Bowlers Orlando Pace and Adam Timmerman and will be joined by Tom Nutten, Andy McCollum and John St. Clair.
The defensive turnaround from 2000 was perhaps the main reason for the Rams' return to the Super Bowl last season. Second-year defensive coordinator Lovie Smith will have a talented group to work with again in 2001, led by defensive line bookends Leonard Little and Grant Wistrom. Little was second in the league in sacks last season with 14, and Wistrom was in the top-20 with 10 sacks. DTs Jeff Zgonia, Brian Young and Damione Lewis will take turns playing on the interior of the defensive line. After losing MLB London Fletcher, the Rams will rely on the talents of LBs Don Davis, Tommy Polley and newly signed Jamie Duncan. St. Louis' secondary is one of the league's best, led by Pro Bowler Aeneas Williams who plagued opposing quarterbacks in the 2001 playoffs.
On the opposite end on the line of scrimmage will be Dexter McCleon. Dre' Bly will also see significant time in the Rams' secondary after leading the defense with six interceptions, good for sixth in the NFC.
Second-year pro Adam Archuleta will anchor the safeties with Kim Herring playing the free spot in 2002. Herring will be backed up by Rich Coady and rookie Steve Bellisari, who, like Crouch, will try to make a position conversion after playing QB for Ohio State.
Although St. Louis lost punt and kick returner Az Hakim to free agency, new Rams wideout Terrence Wilkins is one of the better combination punt and kickoff return men in the league. The Rams will also feature Bly and Canidate as kick returners with WR Yo Murphy contributing as well. Kicker Jeff Wilkins returns after finishing second behind Faulk in points scored in 2001. Wilkins made 23 of 27 field goals and hit a league leading 41 PAT for a total of 110 points. St. Louis will have a new punter in Mitch Berger who came over from Minnesota after averaging 43.5 yards a punt for the Vikings.
DOME SWEET DOME: he Bears move inside this Friday against the Rams to play on the "carpet" and controlled environment of the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis. With a defense built for stopping the run and a great deal of team speed, they have excelled in recent dome games, surrendering a total of nine points against dome teams last season (3 at Atlanta, 6 at Minnesota and 0 at Detroit). In addition to allowing an average of only three points per game in domes in 2001, the Bears snapped the Vikings' 98-game regular season touchdown streak which dated back to 1995 in a 13-6 Bears win on Nov. 25 at the Metrodome in Minneapolis.
'S PLAY TWO: Bears face the Rams in St. Louis two times during the 2002 season, this weekend in the preseason road opener and on Monday Night Football on Nov. 18. Chicago will also face the Miami Dolphins in a similar fashion, closing out the preseason at Miami then returning for a Monday Night match-up on Dec. 9. Incidentally, the Bears faced non-division rivals two times last season, beating Cincinnati in the preseason opener then topping the Bengals again in Week 5, 24-0. Chicago also faced the Cardinals two times, losing in the preseason finale but winning 20-13 in Week 4.
AT PITCHING VS. GREAT HITTING:day night's contest between the Bears and Rams features the top offensive and defensive units from 2001. The Bears led the NFL in scoring defense, surrendering a league-low 12.7 points per game while the Rams offense scored 503 points in 2001, topping the 500-point mark for an NFL-record third consecutive season. The Bears allowed 203 points in 16 games in 2001, which ranks third in Bears history for a 16-game schedule behind only the 1985 and 1986 Bears. The 21 touchdowns scored by opponents are the second fewest ever given up by a Bears team playing a 16-game schedule (1986, 20).
The Bears total of 203 points allowed in 2001 ranks sixth all-time in League history, behind the 2000 Ravens (165 points), 1986 Bears (187), 1978 Steelers (195), 1985 Bears (198) and the 1992 Saints (202).