Bennett, Knox Relish New Roles

Not only is Devin Hester looking more like a No. 1 receiver for the Chicago Bears, but young targets Earl Bennett and Johnny Knox continue to sparkle. After Hester departed Sunday with a bad shoulder, Bennett did a great job on punt returns and Knox took a kickoff return all the way to the house.

Earl Bennett might be Johnny Knox's biggest fan.

After a 21-21 halftime tie with the Detroit Lions, Knox began the third quarter with an impressive 102-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. To Bennett, Knox was poetry in motion.

"That made a real difference in the momentum of our offense," Bennett said after the game. "When we came into the locker room after the second quarter, we were well aware that some adjustments would need to be made on offense. Each of us needed to find a way to step up our efforts. We just weren't getting the kind of production we hoped for up to that point, Johnny's run served two purposes: It gave us the lead, of course, but it also gave the Lions defense something to think about. From that point on, we were able to score in a consistent fashion and ultimately come away with the win."

While a final score of 48-24 might indicate that the outcome was never in serious doubt, an accurate Matthew Stafford connected with Calvin Johnson and Brandon Pettigrew repeatedly in the first half and moved the football up and down the field against a supposedly vaunted Bears defense.

"We knew what we wanted to do, but at times it didn't work," Bennett said. "The second half was completely different. We were on track and functioning as we should have all game."

Bennett, a second-year wide receiver who spent much of his rookie season watching games from the sideline on the inactive list, is grateful to have the opportunity to step into a starting role.

"When Jay Cutler was signed by Chicago, my hopes went up," Bennett said. "We'd played together his senior year at Vanderbilt, and I felt that we'd had good communication at that time. But I knew nothing was guaranteed in terms of my getting a chance to play. The coaches explained that if I produced in training camp, I'd be lining up with the first team. You'd better believe that I worked as hard as I possibly could to show them what I could do."

With a number of injuries mounting up for the offense over the course of the game, Bennett's active participation was even more important.

"Adrian Peterson hurt his knee. Devin Hester went down with a shoulder problem," Bennett said. "I don't have much information about any of this yet, but I think we'll be OK. This team's talent level is deep. If somebody goes down, somebody else will step up"

Bennett, who also came away with four punt returns for 63 yards after Hester exited in the second quarter, seemed to relish his new role on special teams.

WR Johnny Knox
AP Images: Nam Y. Huh

"I didn't do many punt or kick returns in college, but the few I did have I really enjoyed," Bennett said. "It will be a learning process if I am doing this more often form now on, but I am confident that it will work out fine."

Knox appeared to be an instinctive return specialist, as he threaded his way through the Lions coverage unit the length of the field for an electrifying score.

"It was great," Knox said. "I saw a few holes, and I ran toward them. The blocking made a tremendous difference. There's no way I could have made it for 102 yards without that help."

Knox had 147 yards on returns for the day, as well as five receptions for 31 yards as a wideout.

"I just try to be out there ready to go whenever they want me to fill that role," Knox said. "I'm here to play. so the more opportunities I get, the happier I am."

Knox has made a rapid transition from college to the pros and seems unfazed by making such a giant leap from Division-II Abilene Christian to the NFL.

"Football is football, wherever you are playing," Knox said. "I've never been intimidated, although I certainly take the opportunity to play at this level very seriously. I've always figured, if I work hard, then I'll be able to contribute. So far, it's working out well."

Knox sustained a shin injury in the fourth quarter, but no further information was available immediately after the game. Knox was vague when asked about the problem.

"I'll just take it day by day, see what the trainer says," Knox said. "I'm not particularly concerned at this point. I just hope to take this bye week to recover, then to be back out there right after we return to Hales Hall."

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Beth Gorr has been covering the Chicago Bears for eight years and is the author of Bear Memories: The Chicago-Green Bay Rivalry. She is currently working on a second book about early Bears history.

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