This is an excerpt from "Cover-3: Rise of the Underrated, Part II," originally published at FootballOutsiders.com. To read the feature in its entirety, Click Here.
With all the talk about Devin Hester's development as a receiver and Jay Cutler throwing passes at Earl Bennett's Pro Day, the receiver Cutler had been lobbying for all season was Devin Aromashodu, a bubble guy since Miami took him in the seventh round of the 2006 draft. Waived at different times in his career by the Dolphins, Colts, Redskins and Texans, the Auburn alum started the 2009 season just hoping to escape the Turk and avoid the practice squad. He led the Bears in preseason receptions and further impressed when he got a shot in prime time after Hester suffered a calf injury against the Rams in Week 13.
"He's a different type of receiver for us, a little bit taller," Cutler said in November. "Still has the speed. He just presents a different target for me. If we can sprinkle him in, keep building his confidence ... we don't want to overload him, but if we get him in there in some different situations, get him up the seams [with] some back-shoulder stuff, yeah, that would be good."
Aromashodu was targeted nine times and caught seven passes for 150 yards and the game-winning touchdown, racking up the best DYAR among all receivers in Week 16. Cutler didn't throw to Aromashodu until there was 6:50 left in the first half and the Bears had the ball at the Vikings' 28-yard line. Cutler, working out of a shotgun formation, had time, rolled a bit to his right and hit Aromashodu on a deep in down to the 2-yard line. Cutler sailed the ball a bit, so Aromashodu didn't just have to get to the area where the ball was being thrown. He also had to jump for it.
On the first play of Chicago's next drive, Cutler went deep to Aromashodu out of play action. From the line, Aromashodu beat Antoine Winfield with a stutter-go route. Winfield took a slip step and lost the receiver. Only a great play by safety Tyrell Johnson, who barged in and broke up the pass, prevented a touchdown. Winfield's job was to keep Aromashodu inside for Johnson to cover at the next level, and that's just what happened. The zone worked, so it didn't matter that Winfield got beat. Still, the Vikings had been put on notice.
After a quick 12-yard out to Aromashodu with 56 seconds left in the first half, Cutler overthrew Johnny Knox downfield and went back to Aromashodu with a slant inside the seam of Minnesota's zone for a 24-yard gain. Perhaps his most impressive catch came with 10:58 left in the third quarter, though it was only a 5-yard gain. Aromashodu came back to Cutler off a little comeback route with Winfield playing off the line, and as Winfield closed, Aromashodu adjusted to the ball as he was going to the ground. It was a play designed to beat the first steps of the zone, but it was also a badly-thrown ball (low and away) and a great recovery by the receiver.
On his next catch, Aromashodu showed impressive awareness. His original route was inside, but as Cutler's pocket collapsed and he had to roll right, Aromashodu broke off the slant and mirrored his quarterback's footsteps toward the right sideline. When Cutler got free, he hit Aromashodu for a gain of 11 underneath the zone, but full marks to the receiver for understanding the need to shake the Etch-a-Sketch and go with the flow. Had he not done that, Cutler would have suffered another sack, another pick or an ugly incompletion. Ron Jaworski talked in this game about how many of Cutler's picks are directly on the quarterback, but this play illustrated what people are talking about when they say that a quarterback and his receiver have to be on the same page. It isn't just about "call it and go," even in an offense run by Ron Turner. Two plays later, Aromashodu took a deep outside route and was blocked out of the comeback on a Cutler underthrow. Winfield made a truly outstanding play, using his wingspan to guard the ball even as he was falling away from the target.
On Chicago's first overtime play, the Vikings stacked the box against the I-formation – but for once, Cutler had time to throw downfield with extra defenders at the line. He hit Aromashodu pretty easily underneath the zone again. What was impressive was Aromashodu's ability after the catch. After the comeback left Winfield scrambling to recover, Aromashodu hit the middle of the field and picked up several more yards
The game-winning touchdown was somewhat similar: One play after Adrian Peterson's fumble, the Vikings blitzed against an I-formation and Aromashodu turned Winfield around on a straight go route on his way to the end zone.
Clearly, Chicago needs to feature Aromashodu in its offense going forward, and one wonders why a guy who was getting plugs from his own quarterback had to wait so long to get serious time on the field – though the brain trust does deserve credit for not getting knee-jerky on Aromashodu after a Week 15 performance in which three of the 10 passes thrown to him were intercepted. It will be interesting to see how the offense changes in the wake of Turner's expected departure and who the featured players will be. In an enormously disappointing season for an offense seemingly built to feature the worst traits of each player, the Bears finally have someone who exhibits positive future potential.
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Doug Farrar is a staff writer for FootballOutsiders.com, an NFL columnist for the Washington Post and a contributor to YahooSports.com.
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