Boosting the return game

The Bears are in need of a player who can be effective returning kicks and punts. There is a chance the team could select such a player in the later rounds of the draft, but one is already on the free agent market.

Ahmad Merritt struggled after taking over the return duties from Leon Johnson, who looks like he will not be offered a contract for the 2003 season. Both GM Jerry Angelo and head coach Dick Jauron the team needs to add a playmaker in this area.

"Gosh, I've been looking for years and just unfortunately they're hard to find," Angelo said. "But, we're certainly going to look at that position. Again, we're trying to get as many playmakers as we can on this football team and that's obviously a position that qualifies for that."

One recently came on the market in Jermaine Lewis, who was cut by the Houston Texans because he didn't become the receiver they thought he could be.

Lewis, a seven-year veteran, has never caught more than 9 balls in a season. However, the Bears already have a Pro Bowl receiver in Marty Booker to go along with Dez White and David Terrell. Therefore, Lewis would be brought in as a return specialist that could play wideout in a pinch.

Lewis averaged 7.8 yards on 36 punt returns and 20.9 yards on 46 kickoff returns. Those numbers are down from his career averages of 12.6 and 22.6 coming into 2002 season, but he struggled with injuries throughout the year.

Lewis returned a kickoff 84 yards for a touchdown in Baltimore's 34-7 win over the New York Giants in the Super Bowl. He would have counted $4.7 million against Houston's salary cap this season, but will come much cheaper in the free agent market.

"We need more explosiveness and the threat of the big return on it," Jauron said. "We need a little more speed generally in our offensive unit. We need the threat of bigger plays whenever we touch the ball and included in that is our return game."

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