The Monsters of the Midway bolstered their operation with experienced and proven veterans at quarterback, linebacker, and along the offensive line during the offseason, but the wide receiver position didn't get the same treatment.
Gone are the likes of Marty Booker and Brandon Lloyd, both of whom were signed in free agency a year ago but failed to deliver very much on game day. General manager Jerry Angelo did select three receivers in April's NFL Draft, although Juaquin Iglesias, Johnny Knox, and Derek Kinder are sure to be brought along slowly like most rookies playing that position. If Jay Cutler is going to have the degree of success throwing the ball he's used to having, then he'll have to turn Devin Hester and Earl Bennett into the next Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal.
Rashied Davis disappointed in 2008 as a starter and has been moved back to the slot, where he's enjoyed the majority of his success in the NFL, and Brandon Rideau finally – we mean it this time – has a chance to catch his first pass as a pro.
Reasons to be Optimistic
Nobody had ever heard of Marshall or Royal before they both became breakout stars with the Broncos, which leads one to believe Cutler can get the production he needs out of Hester and Co. that Kyle Orton rarely did this past year.
Hester is much more than just a speed demon with sick moves in the open field, as he can run the entire route tree quite well and always seems to make an amazing catch or two in practice – Cutler got him the ball often during OTAs. While Bennett only caught passes from Cutler for one season at Vanderbilt, he was instantly No. 6's favorite target and set an all-time SEC freshman record for receptions in a season. Davis was known as a big-play artist working out of the slot almost exclusively from 2006-07, and Rideau offers a comfortable target at 6-3 and 198 pounds.
Hester is atop the Bears depth chart by default.
Warren Wimmer Photography
The talented tight end combination of Desmond Clark and Greg Olsen may help take some of the pressure off the receiving corps, plus Matt Forte is a terrific pass catcher out of the backfield and can be split out wide on occasion to create a mismatch.
Causes for Concern
Because this group doesn't have a lot of experience as a whole and lacks a true primary target, who can step up to be Cutler's go-to guy when it's 3rd and 9 and the Bears desperately need to move the chains in the fourth quarter?
Hester is no Marshall on the surface because he's not nearly as big and doesn't have the ability to manhandle corners and safeties physically – that's how Marshall topped 100 receptions in each of the last two years. Also, Bennett is no Royal, who is so much quicker and offers take-it-the-distance speed every time he gets the ball in his hands. Bears fans remember Davis quite fondly for all the clutch grabs he made down the stretch during the run to Super Bowl XLI in 2006, but he's dropped a lot of easy ones right between the "8" and "1" ever since.
While dinking and dunking the ball to his backs and tight ends can keep drives alive, Cutler isn't going to be the Pro Bowler he was a season ago until somebody can be a consistent threat downfield and strike fear into enemy secondaries.
This is a classic chicken-or-the-egg football argument: Does the quarterback make the wideouts, or do the wideouts make the quarterback? There are no more excuses under center for the Midway Monsters, as Cutler is as talented as any QB in the sport and can make all the throws. Now it's up to the players on the other end of said throws to stand up and deliver if this offense wants to take things to the next level.
Plaxico Burress is not coming to the rescue, and the rookie trio of Iglesias, Knox, and Kinder will likely make minimal impact right out of the shoot since none of them was a highly-coveted first-round draft pick.
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.