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1985 Bears Coverage: Backup backs refuse to back off

Every day of the 2015 Chicago Bears season, Chicago Sun-Times Sports will revisit its coverage 30 years ago during the 1985 Bears’ run to a Super Bowl title.

Backup backs refuse to back off

Herb Gould

Originally published Sept. 1, 1985

If those backup running backs appeared to be rushing for their lives, that’s because they were.

“I didn’t get to play last week while they looked at Thomas Sanders,” Anthony Hutchison said, “so I knew I had to show my stuff.”

In order of appearance, they were: Rookie ninth-round pick Sanders, who carried seven times for 59 yards (8.4 average). Despite a fumble after a 32-yard run – his long gainer of last night’s victory over Buffalo – Sanders didn’t repeat last week’s missed blocking assignments and showed power.

Then there was veteran Dennis Gentry, who carried three times for 15 yards (5.0 average). Gentry also is a valuable kickoff return man and special teams player.

Last but not least came Hutchison, who didn’t carry the ball in Dallas while the coaches looked at Sanders. Hutch carried four times for 37 yards (9.3 average).

The trio is competing for at most two jobs, and maybe only one, as the Bears trim their roster to 45 from 50 tomorrow.

Asked if their performances last night helped clear up the running back situation, coach Mike

Ditka said – his eyes rolling and the sarcasm heavy in his throat – “Oh, yeah, the backup running backs are clear as mud right now. Sanders has a flair for running the football, Hutch ran awfully nice and so did Dennis. We know what Gentry can do.”

If Sanders was making the coaches’ cutdown job tough, he said, “That’s what I was planning to do.”

Gentry, meanwhile, didn’t want to attach too much importance to this game, or even this training camp. “Making the team is a concern every year,” he said.

PUNT FORMATION: When Ken Taylor didn’t field a punt that rolled into a 60-yarder, Ditka gave him a stern going-over.

“And deservedly so,” said the rookie cornerback.

So, when Taylor fumbled the next time he was back because he neglected to signal a fair catch, you couldn’t blame him for not wanting to return to the bench.

“You feel like you want to crawl into a hole,” he said. But when he did he got a big surprise. “Everybody – coaches, players – helped pick me up. I’ve just got to be more aggressive about fielding the ball, instead of deciding too early what I’m going to do. ”

That was the finger-wagging lesson Ditka gave him on the sidelines. But afterward, the coach said, “He’s got the talent to make big plays, he just needs to be more aggressive.”

THRIFTY: Cliff Thrift, who started in place of Otis Wilson and came up with a sack, interception and fumble recovery, didn’t attach much importance to his start. “It just means that Otis Wilson had a sprained ankle,” said Thrift, who was shocked when the Chargers cut him.

Nonetheless, Thrift, a seventh-year pro, is excited that he appears to have won a job as a Bear linebacker. “I first thought I had a chance when Mike Singletary signed and they didn’t release me.”

Thrift, an inside linebacker until recently, said he’s enjoying the new outside position. “I wished I had started playing there five or six years ago. It’s like a brand new shirt. It feels a little stiff at

first, but the more you wear it, the better it feels.”