Special Delivery

Arguably the Bears most consistent offensive weapon in the preseason was their weakest link during the 2001 campaign.

In two games the team has averaged 10.25 yards per punt return and 36 yards on kickoffs. Each statistic is a vast improvement from the Bears 2001 production. The team averaged 9 yards per punt return, while the longest runback was 35 yards by Leon Johnson. He equaled that in the preseason opener against Denver. Last year Johnson averaged just 9.1 yards per return in 28 attempts, but has increased that to 14.6 yards over the first two exhibition games.

The kick return game has been sparked by two new additions off-season acquisition Rabih Abdullah and Nate Jacquet, who was signed in early August.

Abdullah, known primarily as a kick coverage man, has averaged 31.75 per return including a 49-yard burst against the Broncos.

"Rabih is a good runner he follows the blockers well in the offensive scheme," said special teams coach Mike Sweatman. "(Running back) Coach (Earle) Mosley has been working with him and developing his return skills and we're real happy with the way he's progressing right now."

Jacquet is averaging an astronomical 54.3 yards per kick return. His numbers are inflated because he's only returned three kicks, but he has already broke returns of 97 and 47 yards.

The Bears longest kickoff return in 2001 was just 37-yards by Autry Denson.

Head coach Dick Jauron believes in a physical return team that's why the Bears primarily use running backs on kickoffs.

"I'm a big fan of having our ball carriers back there on kickoff returns," Jauron said. "Secure the ball and take it up-field. Attack the coverage teams."

That philosophy would tend to favor Johnson and Abdullah, but with Jacquet's production it will be difficult to keep him off the field.

Sweatman, who is his second year with the Bears, said no matter who's returning kicks they will have to be able to block.

"The one that doesn't catch the ball has to block and we're not going to put anyone back there that doesn't block. Leon (Johnson) and Rabih (Abdullah) both block well."

Still, Johnson and Abdullah don't have the pure speed that Jacquet possess. Sweatman said that in a perfect world he would like to have big guys that could run fast, but believes if everyone does their job Johnson and Abdullah could bring a kick back for a score.

"They can break away if everybody is blocked and we knock them down, but as far as track speed I'm not a track coach," Sweatman said. "These guys are tough."

BACK TO BUSINESS: Brian Urlacher and Bryan Robinson both returned to practice Tuesday and expect to play Friday against Jacksonville.

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