Better Chance for Young WRs in '09

The Chicago Bears needed a lot of help at receiver last season, so they went out and signed veterans Marty Booker and Brandon Lloyd. But this year, the younger wideouts will have to step up and deliver because nobody else is there. Get the Inside Slant from the NFL experts at

Maybe there's a reason the Bears haven't signed a 30-something unrestricted free agent wide receiver in order to give Jay Cutler a proven and productive target to throw his laser-like passes to this season.

Maybe last year's experiment with veteran unrestricted free agent wide receivers Marty Booker and Brandon Lloyd soured the Bears on that approach. Lloyd caught 26 passes last season for 364 yards and was close to useless in the final 12 games, when he caught 11 passes for 115 yards. Booker was even less productive. He caught 14 passes for 211 yards all season, and in the final nine games had just three catches for 28 yards.

Even worse, their presence kept last year's third-round pick, Earl Bennett, buried on the depth chart, and it retarded his development. This year, because Booker and Lloyd are gone, Bennett will be fast-tracked and given a legitimate shot to start or at least contribute. Maybe, if he were given the same chance last season he might have put up better numbers than either Booker or Lloyd, but it's always safer to go with the proven commodity and most coaches tend to lean that way.

The same could be true of this year's third-round pick, Juaquin Iglesias. With a veteran on the roster, Iglesias would be the odd man out. On the current roster, he has an opportunity to get significant playing time.

"He'll have a better chance to play because he won't have those veteran guys in front of him," Bears wide receivers coach Darryl Drake said during the team's rookie minicamp earlier this month. "Last year, we had a luxury of having two veteran guys there and we could slow [Bennett's] progress down some. We may accelerate [Iglesias'] progress a little."

If the Bears are truly convinced that Bennett and Iglesias are ready for prime time, maybe they don't need to bring in a veteran presence. But saying that the Bears had the "luxury" of having Booker and Lloyd last year is definitely giving those two more credit than they deserve.

In addition to Bennett and Iglesias, the Bears might also get some production from fifth-round pick Johnny Knox, who impressed with not only his speed but his soft hands during the rookie minicamp.

"I like him," Drake said. "We hope that this is a group that we can count on, but you don't ever know."

Iglesias has a great chance to get much more playing time as a rookie than Bennett did.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Bears' signing of unrestricted free agent tight end Michael Gaines could present last year's fifth-round pick, Kellen Davis, with an uphill battle for a roster spot this year. Gaines, who was also courted by the Jets, signed a one-year deal with a base pay of $620,000, the veteran minimum, although he could earn as much as $1.25 million with incentives.

"The Bears had a plan for me," Gaines said. "You can't beat that when people have a goal and a plan mapped out for you at your position. If you put both [the Bears and Jets] together and looked at them on paper, the Jets made sense. But like I said, the Bears had a plan for me and there was just something about Chicago."

The 6-7, 262-pound Davis played in all 16 games last season as the No. 3 tight end but did not catch a pass and was a marginal contributor on special teams. With Greg Olsen and Desmond Clark doing most, if not all, of the pass-catching at the tight end position, the Bears want their No. 3 tight end to be a powerful blocker.

"I never thought I'd be playing for Chicago because of the situation they have," said Gaines, a Central Florida product. "But this is a privilege that they see me in so many different ways."

At 6-4 and 277 pounds, blocking is Gaines' forte. And the 29-year-old also had 23 receptions last season for the Lions, along with a career-high 260 receiving yards. With the Panthers, Gaines even played some fullback, serving as a lead blocker on running plays. …

Anticipating that Marcus Freeman might enter the draft after his junior season, Bears general manager Jerry Angelo scouted the Ohio State linebacker in 2007 and came away impressed.

"He's very athletic," Angelo said. "I was thinking he was going to come out as a junior, and I thought he would have been a second- or third-round pick."

Freeman stayed in school but battled an ankle injury for much of his senior season, which caused his production to slip. His tackle total dropped from 109 to 84.

"He didn't play as well this year," Angelo said. "But he went down to the Senior Bowl probably as healthy as he'd been all year and did a pretty good job there."

Freeman didn't enjoy waiting until the fifth round to be drafted, but he's glad he wound up with the Bears.

"Being a competitor, you're disappointed because you want to go as high as you can," the 6-1, 239-pound Freeman said during the Bears' rookie minicamp. "But looking at the situation and being here in Chicago, it couldn't be much better. I'm in a great situation with a 4-3 defense and guys in front of me that are extremely talented. I can learn a lot."

Even though Freeman's lack of size probably makes him a better fit at weak-side linebacker, his best chance at playing time this season is on the strong side, where Nick Roach won the starting job from Hunter Hillenmeyer last year but isn't entrenched as the starter. …

Knox may have a greater adjustment to the NFL considering he comes from Division-II Abilene Christian, but he doesn't have to look beyond teammate Danieal Manning for an example of someone who made the transition.

Manning was the Bears' second-round pick out of Abilene in 2006, and he started 29 games in his first two seasons in the NFL.

"Danieal's a legend over at ACU," Knox said. "He helped D-II players out a lot."

Manning's role was reduced somewhat last season when he spent most of his time as the Bears' nickel back but, after replacing Devin Hester on kickoff returns, went on to lead the NFL with a 29.7-yard average. …

Third-round pick Jarron Gilbert is already well known to YouTube viewers for his stunt of jumping completely out of the shallow end of a pool onto the deck.

After being told last summer that former Rams and Bears safety Adam Archuleta accomplished the feat, Gilbert tried it and was successful on his first attempt. Then he decided to record the event for posterity, and it has received thousands of hits since then.

"I had no idea [it would be so popular]," he said. "I really put it up so my mom and some of my teammates [could see it]. But I had no idea people were going to get their hands on it the way they did." …

Vanderbilt CB D.J. Moore was projected as a second-round pick in many mock drafts but lasted until late in the fourth round, which made for a long wait for the 5-9, 192-pounder.

"It was long [Saturday night], but I thought it was fine," he said. "I thought when I woke up in the morning [Sunday], it wasn't going to be a long day and that I'll probably get picked early. Early third round is what I was feeling. But the next day was long."

"I wasn't thinking too much about it. I guess he just passed it down to another great player." – Rookie CB D.J. Moore when told that the No. 30 he wore at the Bears' rookie minicamp formerly belonged to Pro Bowl safety Mike Brown, who remains an unrestricted free agent.

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