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Saving the biggest puzzle for last, we conclude our position-by-position training camp previews with, what else, the wide receivers.

Projected starters: Devin Hester, 5-11, 190, 4th season, Miami; Earl Bennett, 6-0, 204, 2nd season, Vanderbilt

Others

Devin Aromashodu, 6-2, 201, 3rd season, Auburn
John Broussard, 6-1, 181, 2nd season, San Jose State
Rashied Davis, 5-9, 187, 5th season, San Jose State
Juaquin Iglesias, 6-1, 205, Rookie, Oklahoma
Derek Kinder, 6-1, 202, Rookie, Pittsburgh
Johnny Knox, 6-0, 185, Rookie, Abilene Christian
Eric Peterman, 6-1, 202, Rookie Northwestern
Brandon Rideau, 6-3, 198, 3rd season, Kansas

Projected depth chart

WR: Hester, Davis, Knox
WR: Bennett, Iglesias, Rideau

2009 salary cap numbers

Devin Aromashodu $465,200
Earl Bennett $595,409
John Broussard $390,200
Rashied Davis $1,581,666
Devin Hester $6,885,833
Juaquin Iglesias $554,900
Derek Kinder $319,416
Johnny Knox $361,060
Eric Peterman $310,666
Brandon Rideau $465,200

Number of wide receivers on the roster at the start of the 2008 season: 6

Projected number of wide receivers on 2009 roster at start of the season: 6

The skinny: From general manager Jerry Angelo on down the Bears know they don't have this position where it needs to be. Angelo acknowledged the Bears would have used their first-round draft pick on a wide receiver had they not traded the pick to acquire Jay Cutler. Then, he tried to trade for Anquan Boldin when the draft began. Finally, the Bears did enough snooping around on Plaxico Burress to earn their Jr. Inspector Clouseau badge. Think right about now Burress wishes now he'd done his couple months in the pokey? It looks highly unlikely that Burress will help Cutler and the Bears this season and that puts the onus on Cutler to make some of these players better. Ideally, the Bears would be in a situation where they would only keep five receivers on the roster, but if Iglesias (third round) and Knox (fifth round) earn roster spots, as expected, they'll probably need to try to cover for the inexperience with numbers. Say what you want, and we're not demeaning any of the players at this position, but it's a quantity over quality matter here. Quite frankly, that could help Rideau in his bid to win a job.



So how much better can Cutler make the Bears' receivers? There is certainly something to a quarterback making a wide receiver better but he's not the difference between Eddie Royal's 91 catches as a rookie last season in Denver and Bennett's 0 catches as a rookie last season. Cutler isn't going to clone Brandon Marshall in the Olivet Nazarene dorm rooms, either. He can make the receivers better and that starts with them developing a trust and a rapport. Cutler has to know what the receiver is going to do before he does it. That comes with reps, lots of them.

While most other NFL teams are slowly reeling in the remainder of their draft classes with signings that are becoming more plentiful by the day, the Bears have had that business wrapped up for more than a month. The season is fast approaching and the Bears' first training camp practice at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., is two weeks from today. We've already put in our request for an 80-degree day with full sunshine and a light breeze. Individual game tickets go on sale a week from Saturday on July 25 at noon via Ticketmaster phone and Internet outlets.

As our 30-day countdown to camp marches on with little news, we're going to jump around with a few different items this morning. But first, we have a little news.

According to a source with knowledge of the situation, the Bears and Olivet Nazarene have reached an agreement for the team to leave camp following practice on Aug. 20. The contract between the club and the school allowed the Bears to occupy campus through Aug. 21 but school officials asked the team to leave a day earlier to allow them time to prepare for the arrival of the student body of 2,500 beginning Aug. 22. That means the Bears will be at another location for their Aug. 21 walk through in advance of their second preseason game Aug. 22 at Soldier Field vs. the New York Giants. For a complete training camp schedule, go here.

*** KC Joyner was able to sidestep much of the Jay Cutler firestorm he's been at the center of recently in another chat on ESPN.com. It's Joyner's opinion that this could be a better team than the one that went to Super Bowl XLI following the 2006 season.

"Wouldn't you know it, I only get one question in and a Cutler comment gets posted. I'll say this about the Bears - they get a lot of turnovers and have the next Brian Westbrook in their backfield. They went to the Super Bowl with less talent than what they have now. Cutler will hurt them at times but many teams have won with QBs that have high bad decision rates, so they have at least a 50/50 shot at the division."

That is high praise for running back Matt Forte that we detailed here. No one seems up in arms with that comparison by Joyner. By the way, later on in his Thursday chat he clarified that he has Minnesota as the favorite to claim the NFC North, but called them a 51/49 favorite over the Bears.

Thought it would be interesting to turn back the clock a year and look at some of the storylines surrounding the Bears at that time and how they turned out.

We ran a list of 10 issues facing the organization entering training camp in the print edition last July. We'll include a short synopsis of each one.

1. QB derby. Amid swirling rumors that the Bears may have interest in Chris Simms as a No. 3 quarterback, we still don't know who the No. 1 will be. Leave it to the Bears to do this.

ONE YEAR LATER: What a difference that one year makes. The addition of Jay Cutler via trade with the Denver Broncos makes this the most-anticipated training camp in years. While quarterback carousels dominated camp news in the past the hope is that Cutler will lock down the position for close to a decade. That doesn't mean Cutler won't be a daily storyline in camp. Prepare for QB stories written every which way.

2. Defense first. The Bears plummeted to 28th in team defense last season and it's yet to be determined if it was an injury-induced aberration, or a signal that Bob Babich could be on the hot seat.

ONE YEAR LATER: That defense didn't perform a whole lot better in 2008 and injuries were not reason to blame. Babich has effectively been demoted and Lovie Smith will now call the plays on defense. This remains a valid question moving into 2009. Can the Bears' defense return to championship form? The Bears have tried changing players, they've invested heavily in many players and they've certainly shuffled through an inordinate number of coaches on the defensive side of the ball. Next to come under real fire could be the defensive scheme if things don't change. Rod Marinelli represents the fourth line coaching for Smith entering his sixth season as head coach. Babich will be the third linebackers coach in as many seasons. Jon Hoke becomes the fourth secondary coach.

3. Face of the franchise. This could all of a sudden become the No. 1 storyline if Brian Urlacher's ongoing contract squabble blows up. Even if he isn't in camp--and who knows what the chances are for this--he'll be game ready come the regular season because he's a workout warrior. Some have been concerned about a decline in play because he didn't make the Pro Bowl, but at the end of last season Urlacher was playing as well as any defensive player in the league.

ONE YEAR LATER: Urlacher's contract demands were met with an $18 million, one-year extension but Cutler could fast become the face of the franchise. Now two years removed from the Pro Bowl, Urlacher is being paid like an elite player. Perhaps he will benefit from Smith running the defense.

4. Line dance. None of the other rebuilding phases on offense will be particularly successful if the overhauled line doesn't mesh. Rookie Chris Williams will be the key and his development in the coming weeks at left tackle is critical.

ONE YEAR LATER: The Bears managed to do fine on the line last season and Williams had nothing to do with the success. Line coach Harry Hiestand has quietly done a terrific job for several seasons and there's another rebuilding project in the works that finds Williams on the right side this time. The key this time around could be keeping left tackle Orlando Pace healthy but the emergence of Williams is essential not just for this season but for the longterm. The good thing is the Bears have plenty of depth here.

5. Born to run. There certainly won't be a distraction this summer with Cedric Benson having to answer a myriad of questions unrelated to his failed efforts to live up to his status as the fourth pick in the '05 draft. Matt Forte certainly won't be under pressure to exceed Benson's production. It's about replacing Thomas Jones, remember him? Forte is a gifted runner who the Bears believe is a first-round talent.

ONE YEAR LATER: The Bears were on the money when they said Forte was a first-round talent. Preserving him will be key this season as he wore down by season's end. Forte can be one of the top backs in the league while still sharing some of the work with a rejuvenated Kevin Jones.

Need No. 1--WIde receiver

Players on roster

WR Devin Hester (signed through 20013)
WR Earl Bennett (2011)
WR Rashied Davis (2010)
WR Brandon Rideau (2009)
WR John Broussard (2010)
WR Devin Aromashodu (2010)

Need

Let's see if we can get this straight. Prior to the trade for quarterback Jay Cutler just more than three weeks ago, general manager Jerry Angelo said the Bears had talked themselves into drafting a wide receiver in the first round with the 18th overall selection. Angelo thought there was a good chance the Bears could land a "blue'' receiver in that spot, meaning a guy who has a chance to be an elite performer. The Bears needed to upgrade their receiver corps and Angelo was willing to take the plunge after drafting only one wideout in the first round in the combined tenures of his time with the Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Kyle Orton needed the help and it was on the way. OK. What exactly has changed?

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The Bears are going to hold their annual pre-draft media session on Tuesday at Halas Hall.

General manager Jerry Angelo and college scouting director Greg Gabriel are going to do their best to convince everyone listening--and then everyone reading and listening to the reports after the press conference--that the Bears will have a world of opportunities when they go on the clock Saturday night with the 49th overall pick in the draft.

Best available player.

The Bears have preached it forever but it's hard to find a time when they have come out and practiced it, at least with their first pick. Look no further than last year's draft when they selected offensive tackle Chris Williams with the 14th pick. It wasn't a need selection, it was a dire need selection.

Angelo and Gabriel want everyone, including the teams picking in the vicinity of their selection, to believe they can go with anything other than a wide receiver at No. 49. Sure, there could be an intriguing safety on the board. Maybe even an offensive lineman or defensive lineman that is interesting. Then all you have to do is take a gander at the depth chart at wide receiver and see what real need looks like. You can't clamor for a safety or some other position in the second round now and then cry about the receiver situation come September. Remember, Angelo has had success finding safeties later in the draft.

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The Bears' pursuit of Orlando Pace got us thinking more about the possibility they will draft a wide receiver in the first round. If the Bears sign Pace, it greatly reduces the chance that an offensive tackle is not a target in the early rounds in the draft.

A wide receiver might be the No. 1 target already. It is not difficult to build a case for the Bears needing to draft a wideout in the first round. Sure, it's easy to come up with some reasons for why the club will stay away from a receiver in Round 1. Most notable, of course, is the track record of general manager Jerry Angelo. You can't ignore that, It's not something he does and it may take a strong effort from the coaching and scouting staffs to talk him into it.

The last time Angelo drafted a receiver in the first round was 1997 when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers chose Reidel Anthony with the 16th pick. Anthony's numbers are not very different from those put up by David Terrell, the wideout selected in the first round (8th overall) by the Bears in 2001, less than two months before Angelo was hired. Let's look at Angelo's track record for drafting receivers by round. Cover your eyes if you have a weak stomach. This isn't a pretty list and you can make a strong argument Bernard Berrian is the best of the bunch although Mark Carrier, a third-round pick of the Bucs in 1987, had a nice career. Here we go:

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When the Bears finally wrapped up a contract for Devin Hester at the start of training camp last summer, it finished a whirlwind spending spree for general manager Jerry Angelo. Hester was the 10th Bears player he had re-signed or extended in less than six months, a shopping adventure that ran a total of $185.39 million with roughly $59.2 million guaranteed.

Based on the 9-7 season that followed, it wasn't the best money the club ever spent. But the franchise's core group of players remains in tact, and the hope is they'll rebound to playoff form moving forward. When you factor in the deals given to cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Nathan Vasher the summer before, the total figure for 12 contracts approaches $250 million or so. Of course, not all of that money will be earned, it's the nature of NFL contracts.

But one of the real themes moving forward in 2009 is that the club is expecting more, particularly from some of the players it invested in. That will serve as a backdrop to our first question of the week in Four Down Territory. We'll knock one out every day this week through Friday. If you have any questions, shoot them in and we'll do our best to get to as many as we can.

We've successfully completed this mission about three hours earlier than Wednesday night. That's progress you can believe in. Let's dive right in.

Q: Why does Jerry Angelo downplay the importance of upgrading the Bears wide receiver corps, when it is so universally believed by virtually everyone else that the Bears will never have a playoff-caliber offense until they improve this unit? Does Angelo honestly believe what he is saying and if so, what does this say about Angelo's ability to recognize even the most obvious talent deficiency on the team he is in charge of overseeing?

Tom N., Dayton, Ohio

A: It's a fair question after the Bears missed on re-signing Bernard Berrian last year and made the decision to cut ties with Muhsin Muhammad. The position was as bad as it has ever been under Angelo in 2008 and without some steps to improve it, it's not going to get better. Having two solid pass-catching tight ends in Desmond Clark and Greg Olsen is good, having a running back in Matt Forte who has good hands out of the backfield is nice. They're not gamebreaking players as receivers, however. They're move-the-chains targets and as offensive coordinator Ron Turner has expressed on more than one occasion, it's hard to drive 70 or 80 yards without picking up big chunks from time to time.

Just like there are not a lot of starter-quality options in free agency when it comes to quarterback, it's a thin class at wide receiver.

Cincinnati's T.J. Houshmandzadeh is head and shoulders above the rest of the group. He joined Waddle & Silvy this morning on WMVP-1000. You can find the interview here.

We've said before Houshmandzadeh would be a longshot to join the Bears. It's been rumored all over the place that a likely destination is Seattle, where the Seahawks are in about as bad of a way at the position as the Bears. There are a couple issues at play here when considering Houshmandzadeh. The first is that the Bears are unlikely to set the bar for anyone in free agency. With Houshmandzadeh the class of the group, he's going to command top dollar even in a weakened economy. If the Bears were not willing to come close to keep Bernard Berrian last season, and keep him away from a division rival, they're not going to overpay for someone who is not a home-run threat.

TAMPA, Fla.--We'll dig a little deeper into these franchise and transition tag numbers that were revealed today.

But first, they're unlikely to apply to the Bears. General manager Jerry Angelo is not going to place a tag on any players this offseason. The deadline for clubs to tag a player is Feb. 19.

Four Bears players popped up on the list of salaries used to determine the tag numbers. The franchise tag is the average of the top five cap figures in the league at a position and the transition tag is the average of the top 10.

Start the countdown to the 2009 NFL Draft.

Well, we don't have to do that, do we? Many of you have started the countdown to the draft already.

It is 100 days away. The Bears and most teams pulled out of Houston today after nearly a week at the East-West Shrine Game, evaluating the rosters. They'll regroup before heading to Mobile, Ala., for the Senior Bowl this weekend. That is where the premier senior prospects land. Then, all roads lead to Indianapolis where the combine will be held in Lucas Oil Stadium for the first time.

Sticking with the draft as a theme, we'll dive into today's version of Four Down Territory.

Q: What type of compensatory draft pick can the Bears expect to receive?

Multiple readers

A: The Bears appear to be in good shape this year after losing wide receiver Bernard Berrian, tight end John Gilmore and special teams ace Brendon Ayanbadejo in free agency. Compensatory picks are awarded each March at the ends of rounds three through seven in the draft to the teams that suffer the most net losses in free agency.

The question I had on this matter was whether or not re-signing linebacker Lance Briggs would count against the Bears. After all, Briggs didn't return to the team until after he had entered the open market as a UFA. For the answer to that, we turned to NFL spokesman Greg Aiello:

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