Editor’s note: As the Bears prepare for their season-opener against the Lions at Soldier Field on Sunday, ESPNChicago.com breaks down the roster by position. Here's a look at the wideouts in this fourth installment.
The Bears resisted temptation to tweak the group in the offseason, passing on an opportunity to sign free agents or spend draft picks on the receiver position.
Despite relative inexperience, the Bears’ receivers turned in respectable 2009 campaigns. Devin Hester and Earl Bennett each caught more than 50 passes, while rookie Johnny Knox led the group with five touchdown grabs. Devin Aromashodu emerged late in the year, and parlayed that success into a quality offseason and training camp.
The arrival of new offensive coordinator Mike Martz appears to have breathed new life into the career of veteran Rashied Davis, who is currently the Bears’ fourth wideout, after Bennett’s stock dropped due to a hamstring injury that forced the former third-round draft choice to miss all four preseason dates. The Bears kept just five receivers on the final 53-man roster, and were forced to cut Juaquin Iglesias, who was later brought back to the practice squad.
Martz has raved about this group since taking the job in the offseason, but it’s unknown whether the players have entirely grasped the complexities of the new offense. Knox, Aromashodu, and Davis each showed flashes in the preseason games, but the club expects more of Hester, who is continually touted as its No. 1 wide receiver.
The entire thing clicks. One of quarterback Jay Cutler’s favorite targets, Aromashodu, stays healthy and produces a breakout year. Knox, considered by many to be an ideal fit in Martz’s offense, repeatedly torches opponents for big plays down the field. Hester and Cutler develop chemistry, which allows Hester to be more than just a decoy. Davis and Bennett each make contributions and help move the chains when the Bears shift to four wide receiver sets. All this would make Martz look like a genius for pumping up this group, and Jerry Angelo, meanwhile, would take a bow for not adding to the position in the offseason.
The receivers still don’t grasp the offense. Teams get physical with Aromashodu and limit his effectiveness. Knox gets banged up because of overuse and fails to stretch the field. Hester and Cutler continue to play on different wavelengths. Bennett winds up too far behind because of all the offseason health problems, and Davis, like Knox, is asked to do too much. Such a scenario would cause ridicule of Martz for this blind faith, which in turn would get Angelo roasted for passing on any help in the offseason.