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Why the wide receivers stood out at Bears camp

Roy, Hester, Knox and more from my visit to camp. Matt Bowen

Print This August 09, 2011, 05:30 AM EST
22 Comments

When I attend a pro camp in this league, I always want to focus on technique and ability during individual periods, competitive settings (one-on-ones), etc. That is where you see the true skill level for players, their footwork and attention to detail.

And that’s why I came away impressed with the Bears wide receivers after checking out practice down in Bourbonnais on Monday. Here are my notes from Chicago’s top four at the position...

Devin HesterICONHester looks much more polished as route runner at Bears camp.

Devin Hester: Talk to anyone inside the Bears organization at camp and they will tell you that Hester has had a great camp. What do I see? A player that looks more polished. We all know his lateral speed is unquestioned, but I saw a WR that really exploded out of his cuts. Hester dominated one-on-ones, put some clinic film together vs. press-coverage and showed improved footwork compared to last season. Second year in Mike Martz’s system could produce some numbers for Hester.

Roy Williams: I wrote about the Bears new WR after the club signed him during free agency—and there were some questions. Is one-day of camp going to change my perspective? No, but I have to say that Williams did surprise me. For a big WR, he had control of his footwork, ran clean routes and didn’t look stiff coming back to the football. He doesn’t have the speed of Hester, but there is no question he can get down the field. And if he can win during the regular season vs. press-coverage, expect QB Jay Cutler to make him a prime target.

Johnny Knox: Running as the No.3 for the Bears right now, and even if that sticks, we will still see him on the field often in Martz’s offense. I still view Knox as the best pure route runner on this roster and he did add some size to his frame this off-season. The WR can get down the field, run the double-move and should be a player the Bears can align inside in certain situations to give him a “two-way go” (work inside and outside release) vs. a nickel corner.

Earl Bennett: Think third downs with Bennett. Just like the 2010 season, the Bears were working what I call the “H Post” during practice. Similar to the Hi-Lo concept that we broke down here at the NFP. A two-man combination route run inside of the numbers. That is the scheme for Bennett. Get the underneath crosser with the angle route breaking back to the middle of the field. He is going to see targets again for Cutler. And in this offense he can make plays in crucial situations of the game.

Now, I am not going to comapre this unit to the core group of WRs up in Green Bay and there is still time to work before the regular season. But with familiarity in Martz's system there should be some solid production on Sundays from the WR position in Chicago.

Some quick hits from practice…

- I don’t chart passes during practice, but seeing Cutler’s footwork and velocity on the ball was enough for me. He looks ready to play.

-Watching DE Julius Pepppers run through drill work is something to see. Best athlete on the field.

- The Bears aren’t tied to former first-round pick Vernon Gholston and I wouldn’t expect him on the roster to start the season. Wasn’t explosive off the ball and didn’t show the ability to win with his hands at the point of attack.

- Marion Barber fits as a downhill runner in Martz’s offense and should compliment No.1 Matt Forte. Where does that leave Chester Taylor? Considering that he doesn’t play a role on special teams, he may be the odd man out.

- I see good things this season from FS Major Wright. Can get off the numbers in Cover 2 and should make plays as a deep middle of the field safety in Chicago’s man-covergae and pressure schemes.

- Expect Sam Hurd to be the No.5 WR on the roster and play a big role for Dave Toub’s special teams. Opposite CB Corey Graham on punt coverage, the Bears have two gunners that can get down the field.

- The Bears looked like a veteran football team during their offensive install. Plenty of pre-snap movement and multiple personnel groupings. A lot of moving parts after an offseason that was shut down to the lockout.

Check back to the NFP later today for Greg Gabriel’s breakdown of what he saw from the Bears O-Line at practice.

Follow me on Twitter: MattBowen41

Comments

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b roo
Aug 09, 2011
07:38 AM

Sam Hurd is the only guy Dallas will miss. He is a good special teams player. Don't know that Roy or Barber will contribute much, they didn't last year.

rotunder
Aug 09, 2011
07:58 AM

I've always thought, that DH just needed the XP, he's been in the league a while, but he came in as a KR first and DB second, moved him to offense just cause he was a weapon with the ball in his hands, finally it sounds like he's got the hang of things.... although, everyone talks up dudes in preseason... can't wait for real football!

euanmaverduncan1
Aug 09, 2011
08:18 AM

Matt,

Really interesting article, nice to get some objective and informed analysis.

I find the situation with Johnny Knox interesting, does it look like he has been quickly replaced as the starter? Last year Hester seemed to have his reps limited so he could max perform in the return game, does it look like this strategy has shifted?

I was also wondering, has Knox's speed/agility reduced with his extra bulk?

Thanks again for the info!

artbest
Aug 09, 2011
09:35 AM

Roy Williams was actually Tony Romo's primary target a year ago until he got hurt. The Cowboys do, however, have Bryant and Austin, thereby making Williams expendable. Still, he can get open, knows Martz' offense and, when he's concentrating, can and will make the exceptional catch.

Domoe424
Aug 09, 2011
10:55 AM

Roy will be good with Cutler, He didnt do nothing last year bcause Romo went down early in the season n who was the backup..Anybody?

Dan Carroll
Aug 09, 2011
11:16 AM

Last in division...mark it down now. They will start out 1-3.

BearMarket
Aug 09, 2011
11:19 AM

A couple of things to consider with Knox: he did bulk up - 15 or 20 lbs - and apparently hasn't lost any speed. I think he'll see plenty of snaps but Darryl Drake, the WR coach, was Williams' position coach at Texas and they are close. Drake wants to see Knox pushed. Johnny is not the kind of guy that will fight a DB or break up and interception; Williams is and the Bears need more of that.

The funny thing about Romo going down was Jon Kitna became QB and Kitna was at Detroit, in Martz's system, when Williams had his best years - and Kitna did too, BTW. Why they didn't hook up more in Big D is a mystery to me.

Finally, on Cutler, this is what you love to hear. He didn't get the hype like Brees and some others for leading ad hoc "practices," he just did what he had to do to make himself a better QB.

If the Bears D can hold teams to 17 points per game, I think they will win a lot of games.

And the Packer games should be special again. Let's go!

Dan Carroll
Aug 09, 2011
11:24 AM

Last in division...mark it down now. They will start out 1-3.

Johnny Z
Aug 09, 2011
12:02 PM

One reason why 40 times can be meaningless is endurance. A WR has to run and run and run. So running really fast one or two times is not that significant. Being able to run fast over and over and over, that's significant. So gaining up to 20 pounds on a 6' frame, very hard to believe that would not cut back on endurance over 4 quarters.

Never cared that much for Mike Sherman, but he identified this attribute as the key for Donald Driver's success: Driver - not a speedster - can run at his top speed all game long, and suddenly he looks faster than anybody around him - "cause they're all worn out.

Anyway, I like Knox much better than Roy Williams, who simply has never delivered the goods at any level (Lol, Ahmad Carroll schooled him when Texas played Arkansas.) Hope the Bears do not figure this out and the Packers have Roy Williams looking at them as a Bear starter. Will make life easier.

But if Knox got too fat, he will lose his snap, and be just another useless muscle-bound 6' WR.

chief
Aug 09, 2011
12:10 PM

Mark it down - The Packers will lose their home opener to New Orleans. Then their fans will stop talking about an undefeated season and the panic will set in. Fresh start without Bart !!

Mac
Aug 09, 2011
12:20 PM

Easy Danny, Chief is right, the overrated Pack will lose at home to Saints in first game and panic will set in for Green Bay fans. Teams will be gunning for Pack all season and if Rodgers goes down with a 3rd concussion early in the season, turn out the lights!

Mac
Aug 09, 2011
01:04 PM

Easy Danny, Chief is right, the overrated Pack will lose at home to Saints in first game and panic will set in for Green Bay fans. Teams will be gunning for Pack all season and if Rodgers goes down with a 3rd concussion early in the season, turn out the lights!

Craig
Aug 09, 2011
01:37 PM

@Dan Carroll

They'll start 1-3...just like they were supposed to last year? Oh...wait a minute....

BearMarket
Aug 09, 2011
01:44 PM

If they start 1-3, that one victory will be over the Packers. Should have beaten them both times in the regular season last year. This year, let's do it.

Pete
Aug 09, 2011
01:58 PM

Dan Carroll, you must work for ESPN or something 1-3 to start and last in the division, last I checked they won the division last year, and lost to GB in the NFCCG by a TD with their third string QB, I can't stand all the naysayers who bash this team to no end. The Bears beat the already crowned Eagles last year, and they played the Packers harder then anyone, beat the Jets, and yet get no respect. They have one of the better defenses in the league, a game changer on special teams, and mark my words this offense will be better than last year, Jay will be in his second year with Martz, is a better QB than Sanchez, Eli, Flacco, yet gets crap for getting injured in the NFCCG, Matt Forte will have an even better year, and the WR play will be better, and to top that Caleb Hanie is a very good back up, no other team in this division has a decent back up QB. Last year no one gave the Bears a chance, yet the continue to praise teams like Dallas, haters are gonna hate I guess.

Buddy Boy
Aug 09, 2011
02:44 PM

Dan Carroll knows what he's talking about
1-3 is about right.

The Bears fans still don't get it
Last year was an anomaly

They played three teams forced to use their third string quarterback
They were gifted the first Detroit game when the Calvin Johnson's game winning TD catch was ridiculously overruled by referees. 11-4 was a mirage.

They were lucky last year -it won't happen again, especially with that O-line.

Bears will finish better than Vikes - BFD

KH1983
Aug 09, 2011
07:38 PM

I don't know why anyone's saying Knox got "too fat."
I have articles reporting that Knox gained 10 lbs of muscle, so he can fight for balls more. That is hardly fat.

Yuma Cactus
Aug 09, 2011
10:05 PM

Roy is still a pretty good #2 WR and should catch 50 for 800 with 6 or 7 TD's. MBIII however has really lost his burst and became a "dancing" power back the last 2 years.

Tony
Aug 10, 2011
03:56 AM

First, I am a Bears fan. 2nd, Some of you aren't understanding that the poster wasn't meaning that Knox got fat, literally. They meant that the added weight could hurt his endurance.

3rd, for the last time, HAD the Calvin Johnson catch been ruled a touchdown, far from guarantees that the Lions would have won that game. They still had to decide whether to go for two or just the extra point (CONVERTING the 2 would have only given them a 3 point lead). Then the Lions have to decide, squib kick it (giving the Bears GREAT field position), or kick it deep (giving Hester a chance to run it back). Once that's figured out, the Bears still had ample time AND all of their Time-outs. During this game, the Lions defense was letting the Bears offense walk all over them. So, it is no far stretch of the imagination to assume that the Bears would have AT LEAST been able to get into FG range to send the game into Over Time.

Lastly, as someone else already posted. Haters are going to hate.

Tony
Aug 10, 2011
03:56 AM

First, I am a Bears fan. 2nd, Some of you aren't understanding that the poster wasn't meaning that Knox got fat, literally. They meant that the added weight could hurt his endurance.

3rd, for the last time, HAD the Calvin Johnson catch been ruled a touchdown, far from guarantees that the Lions would have won that game. They still had to decide whether to go for two or just the extra point (CONVERTING the 2 would have only given them a 3 point lead). Then the Lions have to decide, squib kick it (giving the Bears GREAT field position), or kick it deep (giving Hester a chance to run it back). Once that's figured out, the Bears still had ample time AND all of their Time-outs. During this game, the Lions defense was letting the Bears offense walk all over them. So, it is no far stretch of the imagination to assume that the Bears would have AT LEAST been able to get into FG range to send the game into Over Time.

Lastly, as someone else already posted. Haters are going to hate.

Mr.Murder
Aug 10, 2011
03:51 PM

Been watching pass cutups from other eras of other good passers and was instructed on watching how footwork matches intended location of the pass. Outside quicks get short steps, and that's where Hester makes his money. Can see Cutler shave that stride down and set up quick already....

The Bears big challenge is playing big on inside breaking routes and controlling games. Bennett shows a lot of game in that area, it is something the quarterback takes deeper strides to wait on those kind of routes to develop on inside breaks. Now you do that on Soldier Field sod, and you are in control of the sticks to move that ball.

That is where Roy Williams should recognize his game. Crossing routes mean the passer takes longer strides to set and fire the ball in there. Williams stride matches that range of action. He might lack the pure speed to seperate or break a defender's cushion like the other Bears, but he has the frame and size to time his game and control the catch. Then add that presence to red zone landmarks, and it should be automatic.

Part of playing better in Detroit was having a sure surface to cut and get routes on, part of it was having his share of wdieout talent to compete with. He needs that push and he can push back, he has the size and strength to work free on option or stick routes as the guy who changes his leverage on a coverage read vs. an individual. Around that he has team mates running fast and furious and some of them are even going to cross the field on routes like his and clear one another on horizontal planes.

That was where Martz made his mark, one of their most effective Rams passing series was the shallow cross because you needed to keep up with speed across the field and played with a cushion to respect them deep. Martz usually gives one or more guys the leverage key to break or make route changes and always be open. It is crucial to get that repped up and they have such an array of players with strengths to certain field areas. You attack the field and it just so happens defenders are or are not on that field. The easiest read if open grass, let's find ways of creating that!

DaBears
Sep 06, 2011
04:26 AM

I'm not disputing the fact that Johnny Knox is the purest route runner, but if he is what are the Bears seeing if they demoted him

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