CHICAGO — When the Bears open training camp in two weeks, much of the focus will be on quarterback Rex Grossman, whose up-and-down 2006 season elicited as many boos as cheers from demanding fans. Similarly in New York, where the Giants have been riding an emotional roller-coaster with young quarterback Eli Manning, the pressure continues to mount. “You don’t say, ‘Well, we can win in two years or three years.’ I don’t have two or three years right now,” veteran defensive end Michael Strahan was quoted as saying recently. “I’m thinking of winning right now. They say Eli is going to mature. Well, I need him to mature now. “The thing about this season is that the sense of urgency is greater than it has ever been.” Several weeks ago, Bears defensive tackle Tommie Harris caused quite a stir when he told a Philadelphia TV crew that the Bears “definitely would win the Super Bowl” if veteran star Donovan McNabb were his team’s quarterback. Harris later apologized to Grossman and said he was only kidding. Yeah, right. Before Wednesday night’s ESPY Awards in Los Angeles, I spoke via telephone to future Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice about the possibility of the Bears winning a Super Bowl behind a young, developing quarterback such as Grossman. Instead of piling on, Rice said much of the responsibility for the success of the Bears’ passing game rests with the improved play of the receivers. Rice, a 13-time Pro Bowler, is the NFL’s all-time career leader in receptions, reception yards and touchdowns. He won three Super Bowl rings. “For me, it was always adjusting to the quarterback to make it easier for him,” Rice said. “I mean, the way you run your routes, being at the right place at the right time. “That will help the quarterback get rid of the ball quicker. That’s the way you can help your quarterback.” Of course, it helped that Rice had Hall of Fame quarterbacks Joe Montana and Steve Young throwing to him.
Word On The Street Rice also applauds Bears coach Lovie Smith’s decision to switch Pro Bowl kick returner and reserve cornerback Devin Hester to wide receiver.
“Any time you have a player like Hester who can do something special with the ball every time he touches the ball, you have to put that guy on offense,” Rice said.
Rice said he foresees no problem for Hester learning how to get off the line of scrimmage and into his pass pattern.
“You know he has the quickness,” Rice said. “You don’t want to send this guy across the middle because you know that if he goes across the middle he is going to get punished.
“You don’t want to get him injured, but you know he can make plays on the outside. And it is going to be a hard match-up for the defense when you put Hester in that slot position against the linebacker.”