Assuming Devin Hester fulfills the great expectations that the Bears' coaching staff has for him – becoming a No. 1 wide receiver – the team still has a pronounced lack of proven talent at the position.
One of the most frequently asked questions during the offseason was: Why give up three draft picks, including a pair of first rounders, to get a potential superstar quarterback like Jay Cutler if you're not going to give him any weapons?
Many speculated on how serious the Bears were about taking on Plaxico Burress and his extensive baggage. There certainly was and still is a need for a big, experienced difference maker, but the Bears-Burress thing never seemed to be more than a dalliance. There was also talk of going after Cutler's former go-to guy, Brandon Marshall, who wants out of Denver. But the Bears don't have the draft-pick ammunition to pull the trigger on a deal of that magnitude.
So for now, Earl Bennett, a third-round pick a year ago, is the other starter. If the name doesn't sound familiar, it's because Bennett failed to catch a single pass in 2008 and played very briefly in just 10 games.
But Bennett has apparently had a great offseason, a designation that, as often as not, doesn't mean anything. Bennett does appear to have a more thorough grasp of the playbook than he did as a rookie, when, by his own admission, he was not as well versed as he could have been.
Bennett and Cutler do have a history. As a true freshman at Vanderbilt, Bennett caught 79 passes in Cutler's final season with the Commodores. So he's got that going for him, which is nice. A starting job is there for the taking, provided the Bears don't sign a quality veteran free agent just before the start of camp.
The only other wide receiver on the training camp roster who caught a pass for the Bears last season is Rashied Davis, who had 35 receptions for 445 yards but more than his share of drops. Ideally, Davis, who excels on special teams, is a No. 4 or No. 5 receiver.
Two rookies will get a long look in training camp and have an opportunity to earn significant playing time: third rounder Juaquin Iglesias and fifth rounder Johnny Knox. Oklahoma's Iglesias has better size (6-1, 205 pounds) and should have an easier adjustment making the transition to the NFL. Knox, from Abilene Christian, showed great speed and excellent hands in spring practices. But it remains to be seen if he can play as impressively when the hitting begins.
Davis returns to the slot position but dropped way too many easy catches this past year.
Jeff Gross/Getty Images
NEWS AND NOTES
Everyone knew long before he took a snap in his first OTA practice that Cutler was a gifted quarterback with a rocket arm, excellent size and enough athleticism and escape ability to give the Bears their most talented quarterback in decades.
What no one knew then and still doesn't know now is what kind of leader he will be, and that was a concern considering his less-than-amicable split with the Broncos. The question won't be answered for a while, but Bears head coach Lovie Smith is more than satisfied with what he's seen from Cutler so far.
"When he came here I started evaluating him from that point on," Smith said of Cutler at the conclusion of OTAs. "Everything we've asked him to do, he's been able to do. He's been here every day working hard. Each day he worked more into a leadership role, and I don't think there's any question right now what his role will be on this football team this coming season: to perform well. Of course he can throw the ball, but [also] just taking command of the offense and being that face that's out front." …
Tight end Greg Olsen had a decent season in 2008, his second in the NFL, catching 54 passes for 574 yards and a team-best five touchdowns.
But the Bears have envisioned even bigger numbers from Olsen since they got him with the 31st-overall selection in the 2007, which they considered a steal. If offseason workouts are any indication, this is the year that Olsen moves into the upper echelon of NFL tight ends.
"I really liked what Greg Olsen has been able to do," Smith said. "Of course we know his talent. But I've really seen him move more toward being a dominant player."
Olsen seemed to be Cutler's security blanket in spring practices and the first target he looked to when a second read was required. The two also have spent much time together off the field, attending various sporting events in the city. …
Job 1 was clear to Bears new defensive line coach/assistant head coach Rod Marinelli when he was hired by his old friend Smith.
The Bears' once-exceptional defense plummeted to 29th last season in sack percentage, even though most of the primary players on the defensive line were still the same as the group that sparked the Super Bowl run in 2006.
One of Marinelli's first acts was to change the sign on the meeting room door from "defensive line" to "rush men."
"I think they all can be really outstanding pass rushers," Marinelli said. "They're all working very hard and they're smart. A big part of this package is that the four down linemen have got to put pressure on the quarterback. That's when this package is working.
"You blitz when you want to blitz, not because you have to. As a group, they're in really good condition. They're lean and they've got good speed."
Last year, right defensive end Alex Brown led the Bears with six sacks. …
Last season, Kevin Jones carried 30 times in the first five games but just four times the remainder of the season.
The emergence of rookie Matt Forte had a lot to do with Jones' inactivity, but so did lingering problems from his 2007 knee surgery. The Bears would like Jones to contribute more this season, and he appeared to be running better in spring practices than he did in the second half of 2008.
"Kevin looked great in OTAs," Bears running backs coach Tim Spencer said. "He's in shape, he's ready to run, and he wants to run. He's hungry, and that's what I think is the most important thing. It's up to us to get him on the field, and he will get on the field. It would be nice to develop a one-two punch.
"Kevin struggled a little bit because his knee wasn't quite ready, but there are no excuses now."
QUOTE TO NOTE
"We're a running football team. It's great to have Jay here, but we're a running football team and that won't change." – Head coach Lovie Smith on if the personality of his offense will change with Jay Cutler at QB.
Bear Report: The only publication exclusively dedicated to your Chicago Bears.