Receiver Derby Still Wide Open

No matter who ends up starting at quarterback for the Chicago Bears, he still doesn't know who he'll be throwing to most of the time. The wideout spots are up in the air too, as neither Bernard Berrian nor Muhsin Muhammad is here anymore. Bear Report handicaps the starting receiver competition ...

DEVIN HESTER
Strengths:
Arguably the most exciting player in the entire NFL and perhaps the most electric open-field runner in the Windy City since Gale Sayers, Hester is a threat to score every time he get his hands on the football. His mere presence strikes fear into the hearts of opposing secondaries, and he keeps defensive coordinators up at night worrying about how to stop him.

Weaknesses: While he did show very good instincts at the position last year when making the switch from cornerback, he still has a lot to learn and isn't as polished as he needs to be. Plus, anything that potentially takes away from his effectiveness in the return game is a bad idea, because his value on special teams right now simply can't be measured.

Best bet: Ideally, head coach Lovie Smith resists the urge to start Hester at receiver and just employs him as a third option for 20-25 snaps per game. If he's too tired to return punts and kickoffs to the best of his ability because he's tuckered out from running fly patterns all game long, then the experiment does more harm than good.


WR Marty Booker
Warren Wimmer Photography

MARTY BOOKER
Strengths:
A veteran wideout who gets the job done more with his smarts than with his speed, he is tough enough to take the punishment from linebackers over the middle and big enough to out-muscle corners on the outside. He's also been productive throughout his career despite never having a truly settled quarterback situation, so it won't matter whether Rex Grossman or Kyle Orton ultimately wins the job.

Weaknesses: He will turn 32 years old during training camp, and the fact that he hasn't topped 1,000 yards receiving since 2002 proves that he's clearly on the back nine of his career. Offensive coordinator Ron Turner likes to throw the ball down the field quite often, but Booker doesn't have the wheels necessary to consistently get behind defensive backs.

Best bet: With Muhsin Muhammad now back in Carolina, the Midway Monsters are in need of an experienced pass-catcher to handle the short and intermediate routes. Booker looks to be a perfect fit as a possession target, although he's no longer the Pro-Bowl performer he was during his first tour of duty in Chicago.

MARK BRADLEY
Strengths:
Currently offering the best combination of size and speed of any receiver on the roster, he is big enough to cause matchup problems for most any corner and fast enough to blow past most any safety. He's usually been productive when given a chance to play, including three touchdowns and a 20.1 yards-per-catch average during the Super Bowl season of 2006.

Weaknesses: After tearing his ACL midway through his rookie campaign back in 2005, he's dealt with a constant slew of injuries and never seems to be healthy for any significant period of time. Bernard Berrian was not re-signed in part because the organization still believes Bradley can be a star, but then he needed to have his knee scoped again during the offseason and missed all of minicamp and OTAs.

Best bet: It's possible that he'll be ready for training camp and earns one of the two available starting spots, but it's also possible that he gets cut because of all the bumps and bruises that seem to follow him. Just as the Cubs had to eventually do with Kerry Wood and Mark Prior, the Bears would be wise to prepare themselves for life without Bradley this year – if he does find a way to contribute, it's a bonus.


WR Brandon Lloyd
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

BRANDON LLOYD
Strengths:
By far the most complete wideout on the field throughout the offseason program at Halas Hall, he runs smooth routes and has a knack for making the impossible catch look easy. He signed with the Bears on a one-year deal for a veteran-minimum salary, so he has all the financial incentive in the world to resurrect his career and earn another lucrative contract.

Weaknesses: Despite all his natural ability, he was run out of both San Francisco and Washington after having personality clashes with players and coaches alike. He'll resemble an All-Pro from Monday to Saturday, but he's earned a reputation for not showing up on Sunday and has never been particularly fond of going over the middle.

Best bet: If you watched what transpired out at practice since Lloyd signed with the team back in March, he appears to be a slam dunk to make the starting lineup. His familiarity with the offense should also help, as Turner recruited him out of high school and was his head coach at Illinois.

RASHIED DAVIS
Strengths:
He is a natural fit operating out of the slot, doing his thing between the hashmarks and exploiting slower linebackers and safeties in coverage. Since both Berrian and Muhammad are now wearing different uniforms, he worked especially hard in the offseason and is noticeably stronger and faster than he was before.

Weaknesses: He was already being phased out of the offense this past season, as Hester's presence forced him to little more than special-teams duty the last few games. And while he showed a penchant for big making plays as the designated slot man in 2006, he may not possess the physical tools necessary to handle a starting assignment on a weekly basis.

Best bet: Davis is the ultimate team player and will always do whatever is necessary, so look for him to be a complementary piece once again. Also expect him to see a lot of time on the coverage units, where he excelled down the stretch a year ago.

John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.


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