Column on Bears offense.

For decades, there have been three things you could count on the Bears offense for each season:   1) It will owe its paycheck to the defense.   2) It will bore the chrome off a hubcap.   3) It will be slower than the Dan Ryan at rush hour.   Not to alarm longtime Bears fans or anything, but they may be in for a big surprise this season. Because the team that gave us Bulldog and Iron Mike and Dick Buttkick seems to be on to something in preseason camp.   It’s called speed.   No, I mean lots of speed, more than we’ve seen on that side of the ball ever.   “If there’s a faster offense in the league, then I haven’t seen it,” wide receiver Rashied Davis bragged earlier this week. “There may be individuals with more speed on other teams, but as a group, no one can touch us right now.”   It’s like Herman Munster has turned into Road Runner all of a sudden.   “We play faster than we did last year, no question about it,” wide receivers coach Darryl Drake said. “Football is a chess match between offense and defense, so you want to make sure that you got a lot of queens and kings to offset what the other side has. We feel that we got guys who can make plays at any given time.”   Know how Rex Grossman craves to throw the ball downfield? Well, it could be that we’ll find out how good Rex the Wonder QB really is this season, because there seems to be no shortage of targets there.   “Our speed guys have the potential to cause a lot of problems for defenses, because they have to account for them at all times,” Drake said. “They give us a chance to spread the ball around and have several weapons on the field at the same time.”   Wideout Bernard Berrian can run through a car wash and stay dry. Davis isn’t exactly Ruben Brown in cleats, and Mark Bradley is a former track and field star. Rookie Greg Olsen is a supersized wideout dressed up as a tight end. Rookie scatback Garrett Wolfe is quicker than an oil spill, and ex-track guy Adrian Peterson can motor back there, too.   Then there’s converted cornerback Devin Hester, the talk of Bearbonnais thus far. Hester has made the transition so well that one ESPN guy was moved to call him the next Steve Smith - only faster.   “I don’t know who said ‘only faster,’ because ‘Smitty’ is a pretty fast guy,” said his former Carolina Panthers teammate, Muhsin Muhammad, a 34-year-old Moose among so many deer now. “It would be interesting to put them together in a race. It’s hard to compete against guys that run that fast.”   Imagine the possibilities.   On any given play, the offense can split up Berrian, Hester, Muhammad and Olsen evenly on each side of the field and move Wolfe to a wing position.   Or it can isolate either Berrian or Hester on the weak side.   Or ...   “Hey, don’t forget me,” Davis pleaded. “I’m pretty quick, too. But I agree with you - we’re very fast on offense. We were fast before, but with Devin here now, we’ve taken it to another level.”   To say the least, such talk is sure to loosen the ear wax of longtime Bears followers who have grown accustomed to three yards and a divot of grass all these years.   I mean, do you know how many Bears wideouts caught 50 or more balls and averaged at least 16 yards per catch in the last 30 seasons? Exactly three - James Scott, Curtis Conway and Marcus Robinson - although Berrian (51 catches, 15.2-yard average) nearly made the cut a season ago.   Of course, speed doesn’t mean squat if the receiver hears footsteps or the quarterback can’t deliver the ball accurately and on time or the O-line fails to keep him in an upright position. Any or all of those could be problems before the season runs its course.   Then there’s the matter of Bears weather late in the season.   In the dead of December, feature back Cedric Benson and a creaky O-line are more likely to determine outcomes than burners and deep post patterns. If this speed thing doesn’t translate into big plays and points early in the season, expect serious questions to be raised about whether the team has lost its identity, tried to become something that history says they’re not.   Me? I say welcome to the new millennium. The Pittsburgh Steelers of the late 1970s, the Washington Redskins of the 1980s and the Green Bay Packers of the 1990s proved that you can take shots downfield and still win big, especially if you pack a defense every week. If the QB and O-line do their parts - two big ifs at the moment - the Bears can do the same here.   In that case, call them the Air Bears and put lightning bolts on their helmets, I say.   Paul Ladewski can be reached at pladd@aol.com.