Time for Bears to Shake It Up a Bit

At 4-5 and facing a difficult seven-game stretch to close out 2009, the Chicago Bears would be smart to start thinking about 2010. Lovie Smith needs to get these two players more snaps immediately.

Devin Aromashodu

While most everyone is in agreement that the Midway Monster receiving corps has exceeded expectations so far this season, that's not to say improvements don't need to be made before next season.

WR Devin Aromashodu
Getty Images: Doug Pensinger

Devin Hester is on pace for 80-plus catches and 1,000-plus yards as the de facto primary target, but he still lacks some of the instinctual characteristics you'd like to see from a No. 1 in this league. Earl Bennett has picked right up where he left off with Jay Cutler when the two of them were at Vanderbilt together in 2005, although he has no an explosive element to his game and doesn't offer much in terms of run-after-the-catch ability. And while nobody could have expected Johnny Knox to come out of nowhere as a fifth-round draft pick and deliver so many big plays, the rookie has come back to Earth the last four games and recorded only one reception longer than 16 yards in that time.

Hester, Bennett and Knox are all listed somewhere between 5-11 and 6-0, meaning there is room to add a big receiver that can be a physical presence in short-yardage situations and especially in the red zone.

That was supposed to be the 6-2, 200-pound Devin Aromashodu, who enjoyed a fabulous training camp and preseason to make the 53-man roster ahead of annual Bourbonnais hero Brandon Rideau. He was due to be the No. 3 receiver in Week 1 at Green Bay, moving into the split-end (X) position with Bennett then sliding inside to play the slot (Y), but Aromashodu came up with a slightly pulled quadriceps muscle in preparation for the Packers and ended up being a game-day inactive. Knox got the assignment, recorded a season-long 68-yard grab in his NFL debut and has been a fixture in the rotation ever since.

However, with Cutler struggling so badly to find open targets near the goal line, it's become clear that he's locking onto Greg Olsen because his tight end is the only one capable of creating any sort of size mismatch no matter the opponent.

Although Aromashodu isn't as imposing as Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald or Houston's Andre Johnson, he's tall enough to run fade patterns and snatch the football away from 5-9 and 5-10 cornerbacks. Even when the original call breaks down, as was the case on Cutler's fifth and final interception at the end of regulation in San Francisco, the ability to toss it high to a leaping Aromashodu would all but ensure that those desperation heaves are either caught or incomplete. Lately, Olsen is being blanketed by defenders in those types of situations, so having another big guy in the end zone might serve Cutler well.

Cutler went on and on about Aromashodu during training camp and developed a solid rapport with him, so throw him out there now and see if the kinship they had at Olivet Nazarene University is still there.

Jarron Gilbert

After being selected in the third round of the 2009 NFL Draft by the Bears, defensive lineman Jarron Gilbert said that he wanted to be known as a great football player and not just some YouTube sensation for jumping out of a swimming pool.

DT Jarron Gilbert
Warren Wimmer Photography

Unfortunately, that hasn't been the case for the 6-5, 288-pounder, who can't seem to make it off the game-day inactive list despite the fact that the players in front of him on the depth chart do not put consistent pressure on the enemy QB. Gilbert was considered a project when he came to the Windy City, and it's yet to be decided if he's a better fit at tackle or end, but there's no reason not to get him in the rotation and try to answer that question before the offseason gets here. If Rod Marinelli is indeed the greatest defensive line coach in league history, as the organization continually reminds us, isn't it safe to assume Gilbert is a better player now than he was at the beginning of the season?

If Gilbert is going to play end, get him some snaps behind Adewale Ogunleye since he's a free agent after the year and not likely to return.

General manager Jerry Angelo already made one move with an eye on 2010, sending a second rounder to Tampa Bay for Gaines Adams. Engineered to be a pass-rushing end on the right side of a 4-3 defense, it wouldn't make any sense for Adams to be a starter on the left side since he needs some work in the weight room and would be overpowered by bigger and stronger right tackles. Alex Brown, on the other hand, might be overdue for a switch from right end to left end since he's never put up big sacks numbers but does hold his ground against the run quite well. If Mark Anderson returns to the Bears next season, he and Adams could handle the right side while Brown and Gilbert take the left side.

If Gilbert is going to play tackle, get him some snaps behind Tommie Harris since you never know what the former Pro Bowler is going to give you from week to week.

Harris was tremendous in that loss to the 49ers, registering his first sack of the season in addition to two tackles for loss, but that came on the heels of a benching in Week 7 at Cincinnati and an ejection in Week 9 against Arizona. Because Harris could be jettisoned this offseason before the Bears are forced to pay him a $2.5 million roster bonus, the most important position in coach Lovie Smith's defensive scheme – the three-technique tackle – would immediately be up for grabs. Marcus Harrison is a better fit at nose tackle since his weight will always be an issue, and Israel Idonije has never been a full-time starter on Sundays.

Even if Gilbert isn't ready to be a difference maker in the trenches, he'll mature much faster in actual games than he will on the scout team.

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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.

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