22 Starters in 22 Days: Wide Receiver

Leading up to training camp, JC will preview all 22 starters for the Chicago Bears on both sides of the ball – strengths, weaknesses and whatever lies in between. Today, we look at the wide receivers.

Projected starters: Devin Hester, Johnny Knox
With Hester currently at flanker (Z) and Knox presently at split end (X), the Monsters of the Midway may have one of the of most explosive combinations of pass catchers in the league. Hester and Knox have a long way to go before their production matches their potential, but both of them are better route runners and have more consistent hands than most of the national experts will have you believe. But in order to keep it simple since they are learning Mike Martz's offense day by day, right now Hester is concentrating on the Z and Knox is sticking with the X, as opposed to occasionally flip-flopping or perhaps getting some snaps out of the slot (Y).

Projected backups: Devin Aromashodu, Earl Bennett, Rashied Davis, Juaquin Iglesias
Unlike Hester and Knox, Aromashodu is indeed being asked to learn all three wideout positions and expected to be much more versatile, which means he may end up being on the field just as often as the two starters. Martz will employ as many three- and four-wide sets as any play caller in the league, so Aromashodu and Bennett should still play a lot even though they are both listed as reserves at this juncture. Bennett, however, better step it up a notch in training camp because Davis and Iglesias were better during OTAs.

2009 Review
Hester teamed with Bennett in the starting lineup a season ago, and while neither one of them ended up anywhere near the 1,000-yard plateau, both finishing at 700-plus, Hester missed three games down the stretch with an injury and Bennett's numbers were pretty good considering he didn't catch a single pass as a rookie the year before. Knox wouldn't have even been active in Week 1 if not for Aromashodu slightly pulling his quad leading up to the opener at Green Bay, but then he reeled in a 68-yarder from Jay Cutler against the Packers and solidified himself as a part of the rotation. Aromashodu finally got a chance later in the year, and he put up No. 1-like stats with 22 receptions for 282 yards and four touchdowns the final four contests.

2010 Preview
Pigskin pundits around the country assume the Bears are weak at wideout, wondering why they didn't take a shot at one in free agency or make the position a priority in the NFL Draft, but the coaching staff sees six good options on the roster right now and doesn't feel the need for any more. While Hester and Knox both enjoyed impressive offseasons and are deserving of the two starting spots, Aromashodu might have the most upside of the bunch and already has the confidence of Cutler. Martz's offense is much more high-risk and high-reward than Ron Turner's, which means turnovers could continue to be a problem, although it's reasonable to assume there will be more big plays in the passing game and a few extra fireworks at Soldier Field.

WR Devin Hester
Nam Y. Huh/AP

I'd much rather have ...
... DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin in Philadelphia. Like the Bears have in Hester and Knox, the Eagles are loaded with speed at receiver and capable of flipping field position on just about every snap once Jackson or Maclin gets his hands on the ball. That's what the Bears are trying to do with Hester and Knox, but the Eagles actually do it. Especially Jackson, who delivered a dagger of at least 51 yards in seven of 15 games last season. Hester's longest catch in 2009 went for 48 yards.

But they're better than ...
Mike Sims-Walker and Mike Thomas in Jacksonville. Like the Bears did in 2008 with Marty Booker and Brandon Lloyd, the Jaguars wasted their time signing washed-up vets Torry Holt, Jerry Porter and Troy Williamson and got back pretty much nothing out of that trio. Not only that, but young players like Thomas and Jarett Dillard spent too much time on the bench when they could have been getting better in live-bullet situations. While Sims-Walker is a No. 1 in the making, the Jags don't have much else.

Confidence-o-Meter: 6.6 *
They may not become the "Greatest Show on Dirt," much like Martz and Co. where the "Greatest Show on Turf" in St. Louis years ago, but the Bears are out to prove that their supposed weakness at wideout is actually a team strength. True, there isn't a primary weapon to speak of unless Aromashodu turns into a late-blooming monster of Rod Smith-like proportions, but having a bunch of 2s and 3s at your disposal on every play isn't necessarily a bad thing for Cutler. The more pass catchers he has at his disposal, the less likely he is to get tunnel vision on Hester or tight end Greg Olsen, which happened with regularity in 2009.

* Much like Ron Swanson from "Parks and Recreation" came up with a scientifically perfect 10-point scale for human beauty, JC has done the same with confidence in wide receivers. 10.0 is Randy Moss the first time he faced the Cowboys.

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John Crist is the Publisher of BearReport.com, a Heisman Trophy voter 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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