To start the second half of Saturday's preseason game against the Washington Redskins, the Chicago Bears sent Lorenzo Booker back to return the kickoff. Booker, a sixth-year player who signed with the team at the beginning of training camp, took the kick five yards inside the goal line.
He returned it out of the end zone, yet the blocking in front of him offered little room to run. Booker threw a head fake at the five-yard line and broke around two Redskins. He then juked inside past another defender. Three Washington players then approached Booker but he again cut inside, flying past all three.
With blockers in front of him, Booker took off downfield. He would eventually score a 105-yard touchdown but halfway down the field, Bookers said he wasn't sure if he'd make it to the end zone.
"When I got that ball and started down the field, I was never entirely sure that I'd make it all the way to the end zone," Booker said. "By mid field, I was gassed. I saw some of our guys running with me so I thought I needed to keep going."
RB Lorenzo Booker
The touchdown gave the Bears a 27-10 lead and completely exhausted the 28-year-old.
"At one point, I glanced up at the Jumbotron and the field ahead of me looked so big. I was almost praying 'somebody come here and tackle me, please.' I really wasn't sure at all that I could make it all the way. Reaching the end zone was both a relief and a joy.
"I love being able to contribute but I never thought the physical demands would be so great on me tonight."
Booker led Chicago in rushing yards during the preseason opener but didn't get a single carry against Washington. It appears his only shot at making the roster will come on special teams. His impressive touchdown return turned some heads.
"Lorenzo on his return, he really did that on his own," special teams coordinator Dave Toub said. "We had a guy come down unblocked and he had to avoid him and he ended up outside the blocking and he had to beat three guys. It was a heck of a return he made."
Booker (5-10, 201) played the last two seasons for the Minnesota Vikings. For his career, he has just 61 total carries for 230 yards. He's returned 37 kicks for a 23.8 average, with a regular-season long of 68 yards.
Booker is facing tough competition as a returner. The Bears already have two Pro Bowl kick returners in Devin Hester and Eric Weems, as well as Dane Sanzenbacher, Rashied Davis and rookie Greg McCoy all jockeying for position.
Yet no player shows as much quickness and explosiveness as Booker. The blocking on his touchdown return was awful, yet he made six players miss on his own. That's something you don't see very often. He obviously has big-play ability as a returner but it's tough to say whether he can push Kahlil Bell, or even Armando Allen, for the team's third running back spot.
One thing is for sure, coordinator Mike Tice isn't losing sleep over it.
"That's not my call. We'll make our recommendations to coach [Lovie] Smith and then he'll sit down with Phil [Emery] and they'll decide that," Tice said. "I have other stuff to worry about. I'm not going to worry about who the third back is. I think we have good backs. I think we have more than two good backs. But I'll let the higher beings take care of that."
Tice's indifference is a strong indication that the winner of the third running back spot will earn his position based mainly on special teams, which should be music to Booker's ears.
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