2007 review: The Bears finished the season ranked a respectable 14th in passing at 231.3 yards per game, although leading receiver Bernard Berrian's 71 catches was only tied for 26th in the league, and his 951 receiving yards was just 27th.
This was supposed to be the year that Berrian established himself as a legitimate go-to guy and one of the premier wideouts in the NFL, but he dropped a bunch of passes early in the season and came up 49 yards shy of that magical 1,000-yard plateau. Muhsin Muhammad averaged 14.3 yards per reception, tied for 24th in the league, although he's strictly a possession target these days and has trouble getting separation from defenders. Devin Hester only caught 20 passes, but he did show some promise in his first year at the position. Rashied Davis made some clutch grabs in `06 yet wasn't featured very much in `07, and Mark Bradley was a non-factor despite his tremendous physical tools. The darling of training camp, Mike Hass, saw the field just once in 16 games.
The quarterbacks were heavily criticized for their erratic effort and a porous offensive line certainly didn't help matters, but sometimes you need your playmakers to, well, make plays – and that didn't happen more often than not.
On the rise: Hester may never truly be a starting receiver in this league, but he looked like he belonged right away in training camp after making the switch from cornerback and came up with a handful of big catches during the season. However, offensive coordinator Ron Turner wasn't particularly helpful in his development, continually calling his number on a bubble-screen play that never worked and not allowing him to function like a normal wideout often enough. The former Hurricane proved in Week 14 at Washington that he knows how to run patterns and get open, so it's time to stop being so gimmicky and just make him a regular part of the rotation.
Free falling: While head coach Lovie Smith consistently praised Bradley during the offseason program for becoming a better player, he hardly saw the field and was only credited with six receptions and one touchdown on the year. Although he possesses the best combination of size and speed in this receiving corps, he's not as good as Berrian, can't beat out Muhammad, and doesn't fit in the slot like Davis and Hester do. And injuries can not be blamed for his disappearing act anymore, as he was relatively healthy all season long and should have been fully recovered from the torn ACL he suffered as a rookie in 2005.
WR Devin Hester
Rex Arbogast/AP Images
Free agency/NFL Draft: Most everything depends on what happens to Berrian in free agency, since he might be the best receiver available on the open market – assuming Randy Moss stays in New England. It's possible that Berrian could be franchised to ensure that he comes back for at least one more season, and even though he isn't worth the $7.8 million tender offer because he's not an elite player at his position, the depth chart would look pretty poor without him. Bears officials spent a lot of time at the Senior Bowl with Limas Sweed of Texas and Early Doucet of LSU, so it appears GM Jerry Angelo is considering another pass-catcher in the first round this April.
2008 preview: If Berrian is a Midway Monster next season, he'll be the primary target once again with Hester and Bradley likely seeing increased roles. But if Berrian strikes free-agent gold elsewhere, Angelo might need to bring in both a reliable veteran and a Day-1 draft pick just to quell the storm. Muhammad could be a salary-cap casualty since he's on the books for $1.6 million in salary plus a $500,000 roster bonus, and bringing Davis back makes little sense at this point despite his solid play on special teams. If Hass was too good to cut in Bourbonnais last summer because of his crisp routes and flypaper hands, why not see what he can do? One thing is for sure: There will be some changes, and that's a good thing.
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.