Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Watch The Thrown

Despite the fact that the Bears' biggest name WR acquisition this off season was Roy E Williams, they have improved their WR corps considerably. Even though Williams is very inconsistent with his game, he has the size that Jay Cutler likes in his receivers. Williams will likely lead the team in targets because he'll usually be the biggest option on the field and that's exactly what Cutler needs. That's exactly what Greg Olsen was before he was Martzed from the game plan last year. Williams is the kind of receiver that can help make up for a poorly thrown ball.

But he's certainly not without his faults. The worst characteristic of a Roy E Williams is his excessive celebration on first down catches. It doesn't matter what the game situation is, if he's catching a first down he's letting the crowd know it. Hopefully with him being on his third team trying to salvage his NFL career, he will save the celebrating for clutch first downs... Unlikely. Williams has been known for not being a hard worker on the practice field in his career. We saw glimpses of it down in training camp earlier this summer, while he was wearing a Crocodile Dundee hat and not running hard. He's very experienced at coasting on his talent, which shows when he disappears in games. But on a one-year contract, I do expect Williams to lose some of the antics and to be one of the biggest contributing factors in whether the Bears succeed or fail this year. Being a Martz guy like Brandon Manumaleuna, expect Williams to get every shot at staying on the field and having his number called this season.

Devin Hester will be the second most important receiver on this team. When Williams was brought in, many expected him to take snaps away from Hester, but instead it will take snaps away from Johnny Knox. I am one hundred percent on board with this decision to bump Knox instead of Hester. Hester is a better receiver in my opinion. I know that Knox has put up much better numbers than Hester has, but Knox'impact on the game is minimal. Devin Hester has been overly criticized the last few years since he has made the transition to WR. He has good hands with the ability to catch bad throws, especially low ones. He does have lapses where he will drop an easy pass, including blown TD opportunities, but he has improved his hands every offseason since becoming a full time receiver and reports out of camp are that the trend has continued. What Hester needs to improve most is his route running. He's had problems in the past where he tips his routes at the line of scrimmage and he also doesn't run crisp routes which affect timing with Cutler. After a year of the Martz offense under his belt, Hester has shown an improved confidence in his overall game. He is a full year familiar with the playbook and it should show in his number of targets and overall production. I fully expect Hester to have the best year of his career statistically as well as impactfully as an offensive weapon.

Earl Bennett should continue to be the steady factor that he is. While he's the least gifted athletically, Bennett is still the Bears' best overall WR and often gets overlooked. He is a great safety valve for Cutler when he needs to dump the ball over the middle. He has very sure hands and an already established chemistry with Cutler. Bennett does not have very good speed but he has good understanding of the WR position. He knows how to get open enough and provide a good target for his QB. Bennett may not lead the Bears is any statistical categories this year, but it's very possible that he makes the biggest plays every week.

It's no secret that I'm not a fan of Johnny Knox. I think he is ridiculously overloved by the fans and is a liability when he's on the field too much. Even after gaining some solid weight in the offseason, there is still not very much mass to Knox. He is easily knocked around and overpowered and he avoids contact because of it. When jammed at the line of scrimmage, Knox has trouble starting his routes and is eliminated as an option for Cutler. But his biggest flaw is still his unwillingness to go after the ball in traffic. This has led to interceptions and plenty of incompletions when Knox is asked to run towards the middle of the field. If he doesn't improve this aspect of his game, he will never reach the potential that his speed implies. Knox has very poor hands actually does not use them when he catches the ball. Knox likes to catch the ball with his stomach or chest, choosing to corral the ball with his arms. And even though I'm very glad that Knox was bumped to the #4 WR, I do expect him to play a big role in the offense. With Olsen gone, the Bears will often line up 4 WRs this year. Knox's speed automatically makes him a threat down the field, so hopefully he can continue to convert on long completions. If Knox can sustain his high yards per reception average and big play ability, it won't matter that he's not capable of being a high volume receiver.

At 6'3" Sam Hurd is also a player to watch. If he sees any time on the field, I would expect Cutler to like him as a target. Even though it's just practice, he did stand out when we saw him at training camp this year. He is a big body who hasn't seen much playing time in his career, but has shown the ability to make plays in limited opportunities. His greatest impact will most likely be on special teams, but I hope that he gets a fair shake on offense because in a pass happy system, you want the type of WR that your QB is comfortable with, so size is good.

There are two young receivers that have the ability to make a good impression this season. The first is Dane Sanzenbacher. Sanzenbacher has been the biggest surprise in camp so far this year, but failed to do anything in the first pre-season game. There have been many camp legends in the Bears' past that go on to do nothing once the games start. Hopefully Sanzenbacher doesn't turn out to be one of those players, but I do expect the Bears to give him some opportunities to step up.

The second rookie WR to keep an eye on is Kris Adams. Adams made a big impression against the 2's and 3's of the Buffalo Bills, but I wouldn't put too much stock in that. What I do like about Adams is his size. At 6'4" Kris Adams definitely stands out on the field. I don't know how well he runs his routes or how consistent he is with his hands, but with limited exposure to him I am intrigued. I think that if he were able to find a roster spot and a shot at playing time, Cutler would like to throw his way.

With the departure of Rasheid Davis, the veteran free agent WR acquisitions the Bears made and the signing of undrafted free agents, I absolutely believe the position has been improved. There is competition for playing time and that simply means the players who step up should be able to get on the field. Hopefully the addition of size to the WR corps will allow Jay Cutler to be more comfortable throwing the ball in tight coverage. While the Bears will still need to add a Larry Fitzgerald type true #1 in the future, they have at least pretended to address the position this year.


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