Do the Bears need an upgrade at wide receiver or don't they?
That question has been debated since the end of the 2008 season, in which Devin Hester led the team's wide receivers with 51 catches, 665 yards and three touchdowns – modest totals, all.
And with ineffective veterans Marty Booker and Brandon Lloyd not returning, this year's roster is even less impressive and more inexperienced. After Hester and Rashied Davis, who is ideally a No. 4 or No. 5, the remainder of the wide receivers on the Bears' roster have a combined total of 11 catches in the NFL – none last season.
The Bears boast an impressive 1-2 punch at tight end in Greg Olsen and Desmond Clark, and running back Matt Forte proved to be an excellent option out of the backfield last season, but the receiving corps could be one of the NFL's weakest.
Offseason Standout: LB Jamar Williams was passed on the depth chart last season by Nick Roach, who wound up starting nine games after winning the job from veteran Hunter Hillenmeyer. Williams, who was considered the logical replacement on the weak side when Lance Briggs' contract negotiations clouded his future in 2006 and '07, has rededicated himself this offseason. Williams could still be the odd man out this year since the Bears added Pisa Tinoisamoa, but the fourth-year player from Arizona State could make the competition interesting.
Lineup Watch: The offensive line figures to have new starters at three positions, with Orlando Pace replacing departed John St. Clair at left tackle, Chris Williams stepping in for retired John Tait at right tackle and unrestricted free agent Frank Omiyale penciled in at left guard ahead of Josh Beekman, who started all 16 games there last year in his sophomore season.
Rookie Impressions: The Bears knew WR Johnny Knox had 4.3 speed, but he has displayed a sure-handedness that comes as a bonus. Knox is making the jump from D-II Abilene Christian, and at 6-0 and 185 pounds, he is not a physical presence, but he looked like a big play waiting to happen in offseason workouts.
Injury Watch: Forte sat out the final two weeks of OTAs with a hamstring injury, LB Brian Urlacher was sidelined for several practices with a groin injury, Hillenmeyer is still not fully recovered from hernia surgery and CB Charles Tillman (shoulder surgery) was limited throughout OTAs, but all are expected to be 100 percent by the start of training camp. Same for DT Tommie Harris, who was on light duty throughout the offseason to reduce wear and tear on his left knee.
Contract to Watch: The contracts of DEs Adewale Ogunleye and Mark Anderson are up after this season, but the Bears might not be rushing to get them re-signed unless they see big improvements from 2008. Ogunleye, who is 31, had just five sacks last season and has had 20.5 over the past three seasons. Anderson, who had 12 sacks as a rookie in 2006, had just five in '07 and one last year.
Ogunleye may be on his last tour of duty in Chicago after a disappointing season in 2008.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
NEWS AND NOTES
Early in the offseason, head coach Lovie Smith called the addition of Rod Marinelli as defensive line coach/assistant head coach the Bears' biggest move in free agency. At the end of OTAs, Smith still felt strongly that his old friend will have a huge impact on a defense that has underachieved for two straight seasons.
"I talk a lot about Rod being one of our most important free agents that we've gotten in the offseason, and I think that held true," Smith said. "He has done a super job with the line. I have seen improvement in all of our linemen." …
Not all of the national attention that Jay Cutler's trade to the Bears has attracted has been positive, but that's OK with him.
"It's fine," Cutler said. "Anytime a player goes to a different team, there's a lot to take in. There's an adjustment, not only in this city and with teammates, but a playbook. There are a lot of questions out there, and throughout the year hopefully a lot of them get answered in my favor."
Cutler doesn't seem to mind some of the doubters and detractors, and he said none of it affects how he handles the situation.
"Whether or not it's positive or negative, I'm going to come out here and do everything possible in my power to help this team win," he said. "Some of it gets back to me, and some of it doesn't." …
Smith believes the Bears have made enough improvements in the offseason to become contenders, even if they don't bring in a veteran wide receiver to bolster an inexperienced group.
"We feel real good," Smith said. "We think we're a strong football team without adding anyone. You always like to improve on every position, but right now we feel like we can win with this group." …
Barring the late addition of an established wide receiver, Hester will be the Bears' go-to guy this season, a situation that the coaching staff is comfortable with – at least publicly.
"Devin Hester, I don't really feel like I have to answer a lot of questions about his growth as a wide receiver," Smith said. "He's a legitimate No. 1 receiver, I think, and I think we'll all see that this coming season. I like the progress he has made throughout."
QUOTE TO NOTE
"I think we've got one. I think we've got one in Devin, and I think Earl (Bennett) is going to be dangerous on the back side as well." – QB Jay Cutler when asked if the Bears needs a No. 1 receiver.
Bear Report: The only publication exclusively dedicated to your Chicago Bears.