Both the Buffalo Bills and Chicago Bears are entering Year Two in the same offensive system.
The continuity has the Bears thinking big about their attack.
Chicago went 11-5 last season and reached the NFC Championship Game despite an offense that ranked 30th in yards. Offensive coordinator Mike Martz is back for his second season under head coach Lovie Smith.
"We feel like we should be able to continue to improve from where we left off and make a quantum leap in some other areas," Martz told reporters this week. "With the number of receivers we have and the quality there, I would think we'd be much better there. Kellen [Davis, the starting tight end] has stepped to the forefront and established himself not just as a blocker, but also a pretty dynamic receiver in practice. There are some things coming out of this that you get pretty excited about."
The Bears signed free-agent receiver Roy Williams as a new starter after he was released from Dallas.
The Bears are thrilled they were able to re-sign Buffalo native Corey Graham on July 30. Graham, the Turner-Carroll High graduate, was a free agent and opted to return to Chicago on a one-year contract. The Bears consider Graham a Pro Bowl-caliber special teams player. He fills the gunner position on punts and is a demon in kick coverage. Graham is second-string at cornerback, behind starter Charles Tillman.
The Bears did not risk using superstar return man Devin Hester on special teams against the Bills.
"I don't like putting him in there because I'll tell him to fair catch and he'll say, 'Oh coach, it was open,' and he'll take off," Bears special teams coach Dave Toub said this week.
Hester is the NFL's all-time leader in return touchdowns. He has 10 on punt returns, four on kickoffs and one on a missed field goal. The only players with more non-offensive touchdowns in NFL history are Deion Sanders (19) and Rod Woodson (17). Hester, 28, is entering just his sixth NFL season.
Hester's talent is another reason Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher thinks the team should install artificial turf at Soldier Field.
"Devin Hester coming out of those breaks on turf -- he doesn't have to slow down," Urlacher told reporters this week. "He can just run. He knows his footing is going to be there."
Receiver Roscoe Parrish did not make the trip to Chicago due to a hamstring injury he aggravated this week in practice. He previously had been ruled out for the game. Also not making the trip were linebacker Kelvin Sheppard, tight ends Shawn Nelson and Zack Pianalto and cornerback Justin Rogers. Sheppard returned to practice this week but he was just back from a hamstring injury that kept him out about 10 days. The Bills did not want to risk a re-injury. The others had been out with minor ailments.
The Bears have retired 13 uniform numbers, most in the NFL and two behind baseball's New York Yankees. The Boston Celtics have 21 retired numbers, the most in major U.S. sports.
This creates a challenge with a 90-man expanded roster this summer. Training camp rosters usually have 80 players. The Bears have eight pairs of players sharing numbers. The Bills have only two players sharing a number (76) -- guard Chad Rinehart and defensive tackle T.J. Langley. The NFL has frowned on the retirement of numbers the past couple decades. The Bills have only one officially retired number (Jim Kelly's 12). However, the Bills generally have waited many years before handing out the numbers of some of their great players. No one has worn O.J. Simpson's 32, Thurman Thomas' 34 and Bruce Smith's 78 since those players retired.
The Bears' retired numbers: 3 Bronko Nagurski, 5 George McAfee, 7 George Halas, 28 Willie Gallimore, 34 Walter Payton, 40 Gale Sayers, 41 Brian Piccolo, 42 Sid Luckman, 51 Dick Butkus, 56 Bill Hewitt, 61 Bill George, 66 Clyde "Bulldog" Turner, 77 Red Grange.