Devin Hester entered his rookie season in the NFL as a reach of a second-round pick with no true position to play, yet he instantly became one of the most exciting players in all of football. However, even though he set a league record with six return touchdowns in 2006 and then took back the opening kickoff of Super Bowl XLI for one more TD, several return specialists over the years have gone from electrifying to ordinary seemingly overnight. Hester, on the other hand, picked up right where he left off and would have scored on yet another punt return Monday night had he not gotten his feet caught up with Brandon Rideau deep in Colts territory.
It's impossible to fully explain just what makes Hester so gifted on special teams, but he's once again going to be invaluable in terms of field position and quick-strike capability.
2. Williams is going to be a difference-maker one day
Jamar Williams was just starting to make an impact on the coverage units last season before being placed on injured reserve after Week 3, but the second-year linebacker has come back with a vengeance. He was praised by everyone during the offseason program, stepping in for Lance Briggs on the weak side during the Pro-Bowler's lengthy holdout and fitting right in next to Brian Urlacher. Williams picked off four passes in training camp – tops among all defenders – and will be the primary backup at all three LB positions once the regular season begins.
The former Arizona State Sun Devil was credited with two solo tackles and two assists against the Colts, and his sideline-to-sideline speed looked awfully Briggs-like.
3. Wolfe might be the perfect change-of-pace to Benson
The running game was at its best last season when both Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson were heavily involved in the game plan, but Benson will now be the workhorse with Jones wearing a New York Jets uniform. While Benson is sure to receive 20-25 carries per game so long as he stays healthy, developing a secondary ball-carrier is one of the most important issues for this offense during the preseason. Rookie Garrett Wolfe has been slowed by a strained hamstring and missed a week of training camp, but he displayed some of his trademark elusiveness on Monday night and had a couple of nice gains both on the ground and in the air.
Adrian Peterson is No. 2 on the depth chart right now and even scored a touchdown against the Colts, but Wolfe has big-play ability and a shifty style that is perfectly balanced by Benson's bruising approach.
4. Ogunleye has something to prove after an average 2006
Mark Anderson has replaced Alex Brown in the starting lineup at right defensive end, but a convincing argument can be make that left end Adewale Ogunleye is the one who deserved to be benched. A high-salaried player – $3.9 million this season – with 46.5 career sacks to his credit, he only managed 6.5 in 2006 and appeared to disappear completely in some games. But Ogunleye was all over the field in the first half Monday night, racking up four tackles and a sack against the almost-never-sacked Peyton Manning.
Ogunleye is still technically battling Brown for the starting job across from Anderson, but if he keeps performing at such a high level, he'll only make both Brown and Anderson better with this three-man rotation.
5. Griese's poor training camp performance was overblown
There is no question that Brian Griese was thoroughly outclassed by Kyle Orton during training camp in Bourbonnais, but Griese is proving once again that being a good practice player and a good game player are two different things entirely. He was once again very efficient throwing the football, completing 10 of his 13 passes for 131 yards and a gorgeous 9-yard touchdown to Bernard Berrian. Griese also set up Peterson's 1-yard TD plunge with a 34-yard connection to Rideau the previous play.
It's quite possible the Bears will have a quicker hook for Rex Grossman this season should he struggle since he is in the final year of his contract, plus all that talk about Orton potentially unseating Griese as the primary backup can be put to rest now.
|John Crist is the Editor in Chief of BearReport.com and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.|