Bears wide receivers coach Darryl Drake isn't looking forward to life without unrestricted free agent Bernard Berrian, who signed last month with the Vikings for $42 million over six years.
Playing with three different starting quarterbacks last season, Berrian still caught 71 passes for 951 yards, both career highs. Without him, the Bears will be forced to rely on the potential of Mark Bradley and Devin Hester and free agents Marty Booker and Brandon Lloyd.
Drake believes Bradley and Hester have the ability to succeed, but they've yet to produce on a consistent basis. Drake said a variety of factors contributed to Bradley's limited involvement last season, which resulted in just six receptions.
"He practiced well enough [that] he deserved more of an opportunity to get out there and play," Drake said. "We've got to do a better job of making sure he plays – just give him an opportunity. He'll have that opportunity this year."
Bears general manager Jerry Angelo has seen glimpses of greatness from Bradley since drafting him in the second round in 2005, but that isn't enough.
"Mark's got talent," Angelo said. "We've all recognized that. But he's got to do it and do it on a consistent basis. If you grade the flashes, you like what you see because, when he's on the field, big plays happen. Do we feel good about him? Certainly. But are we going to have other people competing? Certainly."
As for Hester, Drake agrees with head coach Lovie Smith and Angelo, that he can eventually become a go-to receiver, but it won't happen overnight.
"He grew tremendously this past year, and he'll only get better," Drake said. "He's got a lot of want-to right now. He's putting the time in. It's going to take some time, but he's done extremely well and learned things extremely fast, contrary to what a lot of people think. If he continues to grow like he did, he can be as good as anybody in this league."
Hester's struggles with the mental part of the NFL game in his first year as a full-time wideout have been overstated according to Drake.
"People were saying during the season it looked like he didn't know what he was doing when he did," Drake said. "We threw him a [short] ball in the Redskins game and he kept running, which was right, [but] everybody beat him up, saying he didn't know what to do. But he was right because the cornerback didn't back up, and when the cornerback doesn't back up on a three-step drop, you run by the guy."
That's something Hester is extremely capable of provided the Bears have someone to get him the ball, but that's another story.
NEWS & NOTES
Quarterback Rex Grossman will be back but, for the first time in four years, not as the Bears' clear-cut starter. He will compete for the No. 1 job with last year's No. 3, Kyle Orton.
QB Kyle Orton
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Actually, the Bears have portrayed the quarterback competition as an even-up battle between Grossman and Orton.
The Bears are expected to draft a quarterback and still could also sign an afterthought in free agency, but the battle for No. 1 will be between Grossman and Orton.
Grossman has been the Bears' starter when healthy in each of the past four seasons, until he was benched early last season following three poor starts. He was reinstated late in the season and showed significant improvement. A ruptured ACL caused him to miss the final 13 games in 2004, a fractured ankle knocked him out of the first 14 games in `05, and a sprained knee kept out of the final three games last season – which gave Orton an opportunity to audition.
Offensive coordinator Ron Turner said Grossman had no qualms about having to compete this season for the job.
"He's fine," Turner said. "Nothing else was ever discussed. I've talked to him several times, and we've talked about it. I said, 'Come in, sign with us and compete for a job.' And he said, 'That's great.'" …
Angelo says he has learned a few things from his mistakes, and that knowledge will alter the way he and the team approach this year's selection meeting.
"I've been doing this a long time, but you're learning all the time," said Angelo, whose career as an NFL scout began in 1980 with the Dallas Cowboys. "About two years ago another little light went off, and we're looking at things a little differently. We're looking at things differently from an intangible standpoint. That's the light that went off in my mind, and I feel we're going to be a lot better because of this from top to bottom."
Tank Johnson, a second-round pick in 2004 who didn't work out, obviously contributed to Angelo's current mindset. Johnson was a talented player, but his many off-the-field indiscretions forced his release and ultimately making him a bad pick.
Projecting how a young adult will handle NFL prosperity is an inexact science, which Angelo realizes now more than ever.
"As I've said many times before, the two things he doesn't have in college that he will have in abundance up here are time and money," Angelo said. "How he uses that and allocates that will determine what kind of career he has. That usually holds true for all players. So that's what we have to do, and we have to do a good job of [predicting] that." …
With the Bears' safety position in flux considering the injury questions surrounding Mike Brown, and with Adam Archuleta having played himself out of the starting lineup last season, Kevin Payne could be a major player.
A fifth-round draft pick last season, Payne impressed coaches during training camp and the preseason. After injuries decimated the secondary early in the season, he saw his first significant playing time in a Week-4 loss at Detroit but suffered a broken arm while making a tackle.
"It was disappointing because I'd been working so hard," Payne said. "When you're a rookie, a late-round rookie, you want to get out there and prove to the coaches what you can do."
Because of the hitting ability that he displayed last season, Payne will have that opportunity this offseason. …
If the Bears are able to land an offensive tackle in the first round they feel is capable of handling the left side as a rookie, veteran John Tait could be moved back to right tackle, his original position, and one where he is likely to be more comfortable.
"That's one thing we've talked about," Angelo said. "That's a scenario. If we go in the draft and the best tackle is a left tackle, what do we do with John? But you see a lot of players who played left tackle in college come in and move to the right side [because it's] probably a little bit easier to develop and bring them along. Then in a year or two, you move him over to the left side. We've talked through that scenario, too. In the event that we do get an offensive tackle, those possibilities exist."
QUOTE TO NOTE
"We want to use the draft as a strong vehicle to build our team. Fiscally, it's sounder. Obviously, when you develop your own players it is easier to reward them." – Bears general manager Jerry Angelo.