LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- One question facing the Chicago Bears coming off their bye week was how exactly the offense planned to replace rookie wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, who is on the shelf for the foreseeable future due to fractured right hand. The Bears provided the answer, at least for one week, when they dramatically increased Devin Hester's playing time at wideout in their Week 7 victory over the Detroit Lions.
Hester played 59 of the Bears' 72 snaps on offense (82 percent), his highest play-time percentage of the season. However, the increased reps did not necessarily translate into huge numbers for Hester, who finished with three catches for 38 yards on just six targets.
"He did well," Bears offensive coordinator Mike Tice said. "We just have to continue to work on our timing. If he runs a route and the read takes it to it, we got to connect. We got to hit those things. He did well."
Interestingly, Hester has done his best work this season when his playing time has been limited. He arguably had best game of the year on offense in Week 4 versus the Dallas Cowboys (3-38-1) when he lined up at wideout for just eight of the teams 55 offensive snaps (15 percent). Hester also made an impact play the next week in Jacksonville when he hauled in a 39-yard pass even though he was on the field for 25 of the offense's 75 snaps (33 percent).
Besides Hester, the Bears also turned to Earl Bennett to fill the void left by Jeffery, although Bennett played less than Hester with 38 snaps (53 percent) versus the Lions. Bennett had a three-game stretch last year in November where he made a true impact in the passing game (5 catches for 95 yards and 1 touchdown at Philadelphia; 6-81 vs. Detroit; and 3-75 vs. San Diego) but has been relatively quiet since then. One reason for the decline in production can be traced back to a hand injury Bennett suffered before Week 2 but tried to play through until he had to shut it down for two weeks to allow the hand to heal properly.
Tice thinks the time off has prevented Bennett from really getting into the flow of the offense this season. Bennett has nine catches for 109 yards on the season, while Hester is slightly better with 10 receptions for 152 yards.
"Earl has been hurt so there hasn't been a challenge in finding a niche," Tice said. "He's just back last week. So Earl is going to continue to hopefully get into a rhythm and be more crisp and then we can start hooking up. But Earl has been out so it hasn't been a challenge, not yet."