Bears Inside Slant: Stuck in the Muck

The Chicago Bears had one of the worst running games in the NFL this past season, but they have done nothing in the offseason so far to improve it. Help along the offensive line is needed, and another tailback should be coming via the draft. Get the Inside Slant from the NFL experts at Scout.com.

Apparently the Bears will wait for the draft to do anything to improve their pathetic running game, which was the NFL's worst in average gain per attempt last season and No. 30 in yards.

They have subtracted two over-the-hill starting offensive linemen, guard Ruben Brown and tackle Fred Miller, without hiring any replacements. And they have stood pat at running back, which isn't very encouraging considering the team's leading rusher, Cedric Benson, averaged just 3.4 yards per carry and will be rehabbing a fractured ankle for at least the next several months. Backup Adrian Peterson averaged the same lackluster 3.4 yards per attempt, while rookie Garrett Wolfe was even worse at 2.7 yards per rush.

Other than showing glimpses of talent in his final two games of 2007, Benson did little to provide encouragement for the coming season. Unlike last season, the job won't be handed to him in training camp.

"He's got to compete," Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said. "He's got to go out there and win the job. We're going to try to create competition at the position. We'll try to do it at all positions, and we're going to certainly look at the running back position."

A month into free agency and four weeks from the draft, it's obvious Benson's competition will come from a rookie, presumably one with the home-run ability missing from the position the past few years. The Bears might even be looking for someone to replace Benson immediately as the featured runner, considering his extensive injury history since he was the fourth-overall pick in the 2005 draft.

"Injuries are a real problem now with Cedric," Angelo said. "He's been hurt four times (two sprained knees, separated shoulder and fractured ankle), and you have to be mindful of that. Durability is a big deal when you're talking about running backs."

Especially for a Bears team that "gets off the bus running the football," according to head coach Lovie Smith, who looked more and more like a dreamer every time he said that as the 2007 season wore on. Still, the run game remains the cornerstone of the Bears' version of the West Coast offense, even though it appears they don't currently have a runner qualified to make the formula work.

"We want to be a running football team," Angelo said. "That's our goal. Our philosophy hasn't changed, and we have to have good backs to do that. So I'll leave it at that."

That's about all the Bears have done in the offseason, but that is expected to change on draft weekend – quite possibly on the first day.

NEWS & NOTES
The Bears will move up five spots in the third round of this year's draft after NFL commissioner Roger Goodell ruled Monday that the 49ers tampered with linebacker Lance Briggs last season.


LB Lance Briggs
Jeff Roberson/AP Images

After it was reported that the 49ers illegally contacted Briggs' agent, Drew Rosenhaus, during the 2007 season, the Bears filed tampering charges. Goodell determined after an investigation that those charges were valid. As a result, the 49ers will forfeit their fifth-round pick and swap third-round picks with the Bears, relinquishing their seventh selection in that frame (70th overall) and getting the Bears' choice five picks later.

Briggs, a Pro Bowl pick in each of the past three seasons, was scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent a year ago, but the Bears designated him as their franchise player – keeping him under contract when he signed a one-year tender for $7.2 million. Briggs did become a free agent Feb. 29, but he was re-signed by the Bears a day later to a six-year, $36 million contract that included $13 million in guaranteed money. Briggs will make $21.6 million in the first three years of the deal.

"We are appreciative of the efforts of the league office on this matter and support the commissioner's decision," Bears president and CEO Ted Phillips said. Goodell said both teams cooperated with his investigation into the allegations.

Bears nose tackle Dusty Dvoracek was the 73rd player chosen in 2006, and wide receiver Bernard Berrian, who signed a $42 million deal with the Vikings last month as an unrestricted free agent, was the 78th player chosen in 2004. Briggs was the 68th selection in 2003.

The Bears currently have eight picks in the draft: One in each of the seven rounds plus an additional third-rounder from the Chargers in a draft-day trade last year. …

Defensive tackle should be a strength of the 2008 Bears – provided they remain healthier at that spot than they did in 2007.

Tommie Harris made his third straight Pro Bowl playing the 3-technique, but he played most of the season at less than 100 percent because of nagging injuries, including a knee problem that required offseason surgery. Dvoracek, who missed his rookie season with a foot injury, played so well in the preseason that he was named the opening-day starter over veterans Anthony Adams (an unrestricted free agent) and Darwin Walker (a trade acquisition). But Dvoracek suffered a season-ending knee injury in the season opener, and Walker was an absolute bust. Adams played well until a season-ending elbow injury in Game 12 ended his season.

"We have four pretty good defensive tackles back with Tommie, Dusty, Anthony, and we even talked about putting [Israel] Idonije inside as well," Angelo said. "Where we've hurt at that position is the durability. We've lost players with injuries, and that made us look a little more anemic than probably really what we are. If all our players come back healthy, we feel pretty good about it." …

Veteran strong safety Adam Archuleta played himself out of the Bears' starting lineup after 11 games last season, much as he did a year earlier with the Redskins. It's somewhat of a surprise that he hasn't been released, but Smith hasn't given up on him yet.

"Adam, just like some more of our other players, didn't have the type of season we were hoping for [and that] he was hoping for," Smith said. "But he's still a part of our ball club, and we're expecting him to come back stronger this year."

QUOTE TO NOTE
"We feel really good about Mark Bradley, what he can do, and look forward to having Mark take another step, have an opportunity to compete and play and get on the field. I think Mark's going to step up and play well." – Bears offensive coordinator Ron Turner on WR Mark Bradley, who caught six passes last season, his third in the NFL.


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