5 Chicago Bears The strategy is a sound and a sensible one for Soldier Field: Pound the ball unmercifully. But will Dave Wannstedt have the horses to make it work?

August 16, 1998

At training camp the most popular mode of transportation is the
golf cart. Players zip to and from practice in the buggies as
white-knuckled passengers hold on for dear life. Somehow,
though, Edgar Bennett, the former Packer signed by the Bears
during the off-season to help boost their running game, got
stuck with a granny cart. Parents pushing baby strollers were
passing Bennett's cart at the team's camp in Platteville, Wis.

The cart drove Bennett bonkers. Fully recovered after sitting
out last season with a torn Achilles tendon, Bennett can't stand
to do anything at half speed anymore. "I'm a back--I need
speed," he says. "I'm gonna drop a bigger engine in this thing,
maybe a radio. Soup it up, make it fast, make it bad, give it
some power."

That's exactly what the Bears expect out of Bennett (who in
February signed a four-year, $6.2 million deal) and their
first-round draft choice, fellow running back Curtis Enis.
However, at press time negotiations between Enis and the Bears
were creeping along slower than Bennett's golf cart.

Not that it hasn't been a busy off-season for Enis, who left the
Penn State football team last season before the Nittany Lions'
Citrus Bowl appearance after admitting he had accepted clothing
from agent Jeff Nalley. After a religious awakening in June, he
fired his agent, Vann McElroy, and signed on with Greg Feste, a
financial planner who is new at negotiating contracts. Enis was
married in July. As the contract dispute dragged on, word came
that a grand jury in Irving, Texas, would hear a sexual-assault
complaint against Enis. On Aug. 4, after Feste threatened to sit
Enis out the entire season, Chicago signed Bam Morris.

"Curtis is a Soldier Field-type back," says coach Dave Wannstedt.
"He's big, fast and tough, perfect for the mud, the snow and the
cold. That's why we drafted him. But he needs to get in here and
get going. We're not waiting for Curtis; we're moving ahead. Our
philosophy is not going to change. We're going to run the ball,
period, no matter who is carrying it."

Right now that looks to be Bennett, one of 47 new faces who
reported for camp. "This is an opportunity for me to be the man
again," he says. A proven all-around back who rushed for 899
yards in 1996 as the Packers went on to win the Super Bowl, the
29-year-old Bennett will earn his money as the starter and--if
and when Enis shows up--eventually as a third-down back. (In
five seasons with Green Bay, Bennett averaged 48 receptions,
including a career-high 78 in 1994.)

"I hear people talking bad about the Bears all the time, saying
we don't have a chance," says Bennett, who sustained his injury
on the second possession of the Packers' preseason opener last
year. "How can they say that when we have a veteran quarterback,
talented wide receivers, some great backs and a coach who is a
master on defense?"

Erik Kramer passed for 3,011 yards and 14 touchdowns last
season, and the Bears were undefeated in games in which wideout
Curtis Conway had 100 or more receiving yards. Unfortunately for
Bears fans, that only happened three times. Conway missed the
first six games with a broken collarbone, then aggravated the
injury later in the season and missed three more games. Chicago
was middle of the road in the league in rushing, passing and
total offense, but only 28th in points. Making matters worse,
the Bears committed 41 turnovers, which the opposition turned
into 122 points, fifth most in the league. Little wonder that in
a division loaded with high-powered attacks, Wannstedt is intent
on developing a ground-oriented, time-consuming offense.

That's easier said than done with a line devoid of stars and
lacking in depth. Left guard Todd Perry is considered the best
player up front, but he missed five games last year due to
injuries. The projected center is rookie Olin Kreutz, a
third-round draft pick out of Washington. Chris Villarrial moves
from center to right guard, and the tackles, Andy Heck on the
left side and James Williams on the right, are solid but not
spectacular.

"On every successful team I've been with, the running game was
critical to the team's success," says Wannstedt. "So we'll have
to stay healthy and just pound the ball and pound the ball. With
our running game, the uglier the better."

So the line is average, the marquee rookie running back is
unsigned, the first five games are against teams that made the
playoffs in '97, and even after a 4-12 season the schedule ranks
as the league's second toughest.

It doesn't get any uglier than that. --D.F.

COLOR PHOTO: JAY CRIHFIELD/SPURLOCK PHOTO GAME-BREAKER The fleet-footed Conway should see more single coverage if the Bears get their running back untracked. [Curtis Conway in game] B/W PHOTO: LAYNE KENNEDY Robinson [Marcus Robinson]

Schedule

Sept. 6 JACKSONVILLE
13 at Pittsburgh
20 at Tampa Bay
27 MINNESOTA
Oct. 4 DETROIT
11 at Arizona
18 DALLAS
25 at Tennessee
Nov. 1 OPEN DATE
8 ST. LOUIS
15 at Detroit
22 at Atlanta
29 TAMPA BAY
Dec. 6 at Minnesota
13 at Green Bay
20 BALTIMORE
27 GREEN BAY

Fast Facts

1997 Record 4-12 (5th in NFC Central) NFL rank
(rush/pass/total): offense 16/15/17; defense 19/11/12

1998 Schedule strength NFL rank: 2 Opponents' 1997 winning
percentage: .549 Games against playoff teams: 10

A Bear of a Schedule

The 1998 Bears are only the fourth team in NFL history to begin
a season with five consecutive games against teams that made the
playoffs the previous year. Coach Dave Wannstedt would surely
prefer to follow the example of the '82 Redskins, who withstood
that challenge en route to a 27-17 Super Bowl win over the
Dolphins, rather than that of the '86 Colts and the '71 Eagles,
both of whom lost all five of those games and fired their coach
before the season was out.

Previous Record
year's in first Final
record five games record The result

1986 Colts 5-11 0-5 3-13 Coach Rod Dowhower
fired after 13 games

1982 Redskins 8-8 4-1 8-1 Won Super Bowl after
strike-shortened season

1971 Eagles 3-10-1 0-5 6-7-1 Coach Jerry Williams
fired after three games

Inside Slant

The Bears may have discovered a deep threat in second-year
wideout Marcus Robinson. After spending last season on injured
reserve, Robinson led NFL Europe with 811 receiving yards and a
20.8-yard average while finishing second with 39 catches.
Robinson's size (6'3", 215 pounds) is a plus, but he needs to
work on his routes if he expects to get significant playing
time.... Left defensive end John Thierry, a disappointment
since being selected in the first round of the '94 draft,
ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the
ninth game last season, and Mark Thomas took advantage. A
free-agent pickup from the Panthers in '97, Thomas is penciled
in as the starter.... The Bears haven't been represented in the
Pro Bowl the past four seasons.

Projected Lineup With 1997 statistics

Coach: Dave Wannstedt
Sixth season with Bears (36-44 in NFL)

Offensive Backs PVR*

QB Erik Kramer 71[PVR*] 477 att. 275 comp. 57.7%
3,011 yds. 14 TDs 14 int. 74.0 rtg.

RB Edgar Bennett**[N] 136[PVR*] 222 att. 899 yds. 4.0
avg. 31 rec. 176 yds. 5.7 avg. 3 TDs

FB Ty Hallock[N] 387[PVR*] 4 att. 21 yds. 5.3 avg.
18 rec. 131 yds. 7.3 avg. 1 TD

RB Curtis Enis[N](R) 89[PVR*] 228 att. 1,363 yds. 6.0
avg. 25 rec. 215 yds. 8.6 avg. 20 TDs

Receivers, Specialists, Offensive Linemen

WR Curtis Conway 95[PVR*] 30 rec. 476 yds. 1 TD
WR Bobby Engram 163[PVR*] 45 rec. 399 yds. 2 TDs
WR Chris Penn 184[PVR*] 47 rec. 576 yds. 3 TDs
TE Alonzo Mayes[N](R) 252[PVR*] 29 rec. 424 yds. 7 TDs
K Jeff Jaeger 154[PVR*] 20/20 XPs 21/26 FGs 83 pts.
PR Bobby Engram 163[PVR*] 1 ret. 4.0 avg. 0 TDs
KR Fabien Bownes 398[PVR*] 19 ret. 20.8 avg. 0 TDs
LT Andy Heck 6'6" 298 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
LG Todd Perry 6'5" 308 lbs. 11 games 11 starts
C Olin Kreutz[N](R) 6'2" 300 lbs. 11 games 11 starts
RG Chris Villarrial 6'4" 310 lbs. 11 games 11 starts
RT James Williams 6'7" 340 lbs. 16 games 16 starts

Defense

LE Mark Thomas 32 tackles 4 1/2 sacks
LT Jim Flanigan 50 tackles 6 sacks
RT Mike Wells[N] 66 tackles 1 sack
RE Carl Simpson 34 tackles 4 1/2 sacks
OLB Ricardo McDonald[N] 64 tackles 1 sack
MLB Barry Minter 92 tackles 6 sacks
OLB Michael Lowery 5 tackles 0 sacks
CB Tom Carter 48 tackles 3 int.
SS Marty Carter 96 tackles 1 int.
FS John Mangum 89 tackles 2 int.
CB Walt Harris 83 tackles 5 int.
P Todd Sauerbrun 95 punts 42.7 avg.

[N]New acquisition (R) Rookie (statistics for final college
year) *PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 88)

**1996 statistics

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)