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Capel's commitment appeals to Bears

By GREG AUMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 24, 2001


The Chicago Bears' selection of Brooksville's John Capel in the seventh round of the NFL Draft says something about Chicago's interest in the speedy receiver but even more about Capel's commitment to playing football.

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[Times photo: Michael Weimar]
John Capel was drafted by the Chicago Bears in the seventh round of the NFL Draft. He will head north for the Bears' first minicamp this weekend.
What initially attracted the Bears to the Olympic sprinter was, of course, his world-class speed, but what clinched their decision to pick Capel was his commitment toward football.

"We all realize he can make more money running track," Chicago personnel chief Mark Hatley said during a news conference Sunday night. "After we got through talking with him, we felt like football was what he really wanted to do. He convinced us of that, and that's the reason we drafted him."

Making the team never is easy for a seventh-round pick, especially one who hasn't played football in more than a year. Hatley said it was clear from Capel's personal workouts that he has put time in to honing his skills.

"He's been training for football since the combine," Hatley said. "You can tell he's working on it. He caught the ball a lot better than expected."

Hatley said the Bears discussed every option with Capel, including what he'd do if he didn't make the team and was invited onto the five-man practice squad. Even then, Capel said he would stick with football and not go back to track full-time.

"We went through every scenario we could go through with the kid, and we're convinced he wants to play football first," Hatley said. "Hopefully, we'll get him in here and he'll give us some plusses in some areas that we need."

Capel was unavailable for comment Monday, but he will be heading north for the Bears' first minicamp this weekend.

For the rookie to field many kickoffs or punts this fall, he will have to get past one of the NFL's busiest return specialists last season. Veteran Glyn Milburn handled 35 of Chicago's 36 punt returns and 63 of its 68 kickoff returns. Those numbers put him in the top five in the league in both categories, but his averages -- 23.3 yards on kickoffs, 8.6 on punts -- ranked 16th in each category.

Milburn, 30, failed to show the big-play ability he had in 1998, his first season with the Bears, when he had three touchdown returns and ranked among the league's top five in average for punts and kickoffs. With a base salary of $1-million in the final year of his contract, Milburn could be a salary-cap casualty if Capel or another receiver could prove himself capable of handling returns.

Returns might be Capel's best chance to make the team, however. The Bears are loaded with receivers, with 10 under contract before Capel and first-round pick David Terrell were taken this weekend.

The club's top four receivers look to be Terrell, Marcus Robinson, Bobby Engram and Marty Booker, but the rest of the group lacks significant experience. Dez White, a third-round selection last year, caught 10 passes as a rookie, and D'Wayne Bates, a third-round pick in 1999, has six catches in two seasons.

Capel has a good chance at outlasting the rest of the competition, which consists of three undrafted free agents and Sulecio Sanford, a seventh-round selection last year who spent most of the season on the practice squad.

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