Earl Bennett had a comeback that even Gabe Kotter could be proud of. The Vanderbilt standout, now in his 4th season with the Chicago Bears, showed up against the Philadelphia Eagles after suffering a chest injury during the Week 2 matchup against the New Orleans Saints. Bennett finished his first game back from injury with 5 receptions for 95yds and a touchdown.
"It's got to be the hands!"
Bennett by no means is the fastest receiver on the Bears (that is given by default to Devin Hester and Johnny Knox), nor is he the strongest (Kellen Davis), but he is hands down the most reliable. He is the Bears go-to guy on the outside and in the slot, and especially on third downs. His third down productivity is unparalleled on the Bears roster. Coming into Monday Night's matchup, Bennett lead the team in third down production with catching 19 passes for 199yds and a touchdown.
And being that the Bears came into that Monday Night matchup ranked 29th in the NFL in third down conversion at 29%, Bennett was aptly dubbed "Mr. Third Down" by offensive coordinator Mike Martz,
"He made so many plays in key situations for us last year," Martz said. "I call him, ‘Mr. Third Down.’ It’s almost a foregone conclusion that when you throw him the ball, it’s going to be a completion. It’s good to have him back.”
The Bears struggles at the receiver position are well documented. The is no real No.1 wideout on the Bears. The Devin Hester Project is still out for the jury, the "Who Wants To Be A No.2 Receiver" competition between Johnny Knox and Roy Williams is now heading into the third quarter of the season, and due to injury Earl has been demoted to 3rd string purely by default.
But that may all change.
The Bears front office, Mike Martz and Lovie Smith should take great notice to the development and progress of Bennett and his seamless entry back into this Bears offense. One could say, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" and just keep things status quo with the usage of Bennett in the passing game. Giving him the ball predominantly on third downs and in the slot position. I however say nay, and will take it a step further in saying he should be the Bears No.1 receiver.
The 24yr old 3rd round draft pick from Vanderbilt has shown great upside since the 2009 season. His ability to adjust routes and to passes thrown away from his body is an intangible at the wide-out position. The matter of concentration it takes to make difficult catches in traffic and the strength to gain yards after the catch set Bennett apart from most receivers with his limited agility and speed skill set. In 2010, Bennett was accredited by Pro Football Focus as one of only two receivers (Jordan Shipley of the Cincinnati Bengals) with over 50 receptions and zero drops.
Regardless of Bennett's speed deficiency, that is not the ultimate requirement to be a No.1 receiver in the NFL. No.1's tend to be the teams most reliable wide-out on the roster, a player that if you need a catch in a tough spot, they can make it. And by all accounts Earl Bennett has been that receiver for the Bears in the past 3 seasons.
Alot of that has to do with his relationship and familiarity with Jay Cutler. Dating back to the time they spent at Vanderbilt when Cutler was a senior and Bennett was a rookie. The Cutler-Bennett connection happened 79 times for over 800yds and 9TD's, the most TD's for Bennett in his college career. Just looking at some of the old Vandy game film, you can see that there has to be a trust between Cutler and Bennett, they have connected too many times in clutch for there not to be.
Here is an example
The Final Argument
Let's be realistic, who do the Bears have at wide receiver? I believe in the Devin Hester Project the first couple seasons. However, I soon realized that the Bears were taking the greatest kick/punt returner of all time and saturating his talents with extra work (Hester did not return a kick or punt for touchdown his first two seasons as a No.1 receiver). Throw in the fact that Hester has never actually wanted to be a No.1 and that is a recipe for disaster.
I am thoroughly enjoying this battle between Knox and Williams, partly it has motivated both players to elevate their play. However, what they both have proven throughout this season is that at the critical moments thus far, they cannot be trusted. Johnny Knox leads all Bears wide-outs in receiving yards (362) and Williams leads in average yards per catch (14.8). Unfortunately, dropped passes and bad communication with Cutler have plagued the pair and thus has prevented either one any significant progress over the next.
In Bennett's absence, Sanzenbacher showed that he is undoubtedly the second best third down option on the Bears. He also showed that his hands are as bad if not worse at times than both Williams and Knox combined ( 5 dropped passes tied for 7th in the NFL). He would be the perfect fit for the 3rd wide-out spot .
Kellen Davis on the other hand is the exact opposite of what Sanzenbacher and all the other Bears receivers embody. At 6'7'', 267lbs the former Michigan State TE mixes size and a sprinkle of speed for a potentially lethal combination at the wide receiver position. The bad side of this situation is that Davis is naturally a TE, so the transition not only to the NFL level, but to the wide-out position has been slow to say the least. Kellen has been the topic of discussion in various trade and release rumors since the Bears drafted him 5th round, 158th overall in 2008.
*Other Bears wideout Sam Hurd has performed well on special teams, recovering a Desean Jackson fumble late in Monday Night's game that led to the Bears late game winning drive. His production as a receiver still remains to be seen.
So "As I See It," the Bears cannot afford to keep their most reliable wide-out at the 3-spot. I can only compare it to having Devin Hester back up Johnny Knox because the Bears want to fully utilize him at the wide-out position. Oh wait.. They have done that before.
Let's hope for the sake of the Bears offensive future they break the trend.
Tags: Chicago Bears, Cincinnati Bengals, Dane Sanzenbacher, Desean Jackson, Devin Hester, Earl Bennett, Jay Cutler, Johnny Knox, Jordan Shipley, Kellen Davis, Lovie Smith, Mike Martz, Philadelphia Eagles, Roy Williams, Sam Hurd, Vanderbilt