Bears sign return specialist

The Chicago Bears signed wide receiver/return specialist Vinny Sutherland Thursday and waived wide receiver Jamin Elliott.

Head coach Dick Jauron has insisted that Leon Johnson is still going to be back on punts and kicks, but the signing by GM Jerry Angelo is a sign of change on the horizon.

It's unclear if the Bears will Sutherland on both kicks and punts. The idea of having him splitting time with Ahmad Merritt and Rabih Abdullah is a possibility. The trio should improve the field position from the first quarter of the season in which the team averaged 19.2 yards per kick return.

Jauron said he has a philosophy about the return facet of the game.

"I really do like our returners," Jauron said. "Part of the reason why I do like them is because they are guys who get hit a lot with the football in their hand, that's their business, they're running backs. I feel a lot more secure with them in that regard. I see teams that have smaller, maybe faster returners and there is an appeal to that but I also see the ball on the ground, and there is no appeal in that to me. I really have a lot of faith in Leon and Rabih. Obviously, like everybody, we'd like to get some big returns. It's not just them though, we need to block it better. Sometimes we do and sometimes we don't. We just have to keep improving in that area and not only in that area but all areas."

However, changes might not be made until after the bye. Merritt's health is still in doubt for Monday's game with the Packers, while the Bears might not rush Sutherland into the lineup after just a few days of practice with the team.

Vinny Sutherland signed a two-year contract with the Bears. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. He was the San Francisco 49ers primary kick and punt returner in 2001, fielding 49 kicks for a Niners rookie record 1,121 yards (22.9 yards per return) with a long return of 65 yards. He also returned 19 punts for 144 yards (7.6 ypr) with a long of 19. Sutherland played in 15 games his rookie season with one reception for five yards and one rush for 16 yards. He waived from the Niners with an injury settlement (hamstring) on Aug. 27. The 5-8, 195 pounder out of Purdue was originally drafted in the fifth round (136th overall) in 2001 by the Atlanta Falcons and signed as a free agent in San Francisco on Sept 3, 2001.

Jamin Elliot was the Bears sixth-round selection of April's draft. The receiver was a gameday inactive for all four of the team's games.

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