Ever since finishing 31st in the NFL in passing yardage last season, the Bears' receivers have heard different variations on how they're the weak link on a strong team.
Sunday afternoon is their first opportunity to change those negative perceptions, but they'll have to do it against a Packers defense that was the league's best in passing yards allowed last season. Since then, the Packers have improved through the addition of cornerback Charles Woodson, strong safety Marquand Manuel and defensive tackle Ryan Pickett in free agency and linebacker A.J. Hawk, who was drafted in the first round.
That doesn't matter to the maligned members of the Bears' most disrespected unit.
"We're tired of hearing people criticize and talk down on the receiving corps, saying we have no passing game and this and that," Rashied Davis said. "We have a lot of talent, and everybody just has to go out and play to their potential."
Davis wasn't part of the group last season, when he played cornerback for the Bears, but he was the team's leading preseason receiver with eight catches for 152 yards, including a 41-yard touchdown.
Quarterback Rex Grossman only played in two games last season because of a fractured ankle, and he's only started eight NFL games, so he's in the same situation of having to prove himself as his receivers.
"I think myself and receivers are out for a little respect," Grossman said. "You don't get any unless you go out there and prove it and go take it. No one is going to give you any respect until you actually earn it, and that's the way it should be. And we feel confident we are ready to go do that."
Mark Bradley started five games as a rookie last season and had a breakout game in Week 8 with five catches for 88 yards in the first half. But he suffered a torn ACL in his right knee before halftime of that game and missed the remainder of the season, finishing with 18 catches. He's approaching full recovery but isn't quite there yet.
"We just have to prove it to ourselves," Bradley said. "All the rest of it is going to take care of itself. We just have to go out there and show what we're capable of doing."
Bernard Berrian emerged last season at the end of his second year in the league, but he's still caught a career total of only 28 passes. Justin Gage, who's questionable with a rib injury, has 60 career catches in three unspectacular seasons. Airese Currie, the fastest player on the team, spent last season on injured lists and is an unknown commodity.
Those five players combined have 106 career catches in the NFL, just 13 more than No. 1 receiver Muhsin Muhammad had in the 2004 season for the Panthers. It's not so much that the young guys won't good players, it's that they haven't accomplished much yet.
Their coach, Darryl Drake, isn't surprised that his younger players aren't getting any respect, and he doesn't really think they should.
"I think they feel like they've got something to prove because of where they stand in people's eyes," Drake said. "And rightfully so. What have they done? They do have some things to prove. They should have a chip on their shoulders. I've got one on mine. So hopefully, they have pride and we'll see what happens."
Eddie Drummond is still returning punts and kickoffs but, by his own admission, he has other things on his mind as the Lions open the regular season against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.
Like lining up in the slot and catching passes in the offense that coordinator Mike Martz brought to the Lions.
"I've been waiting for this for four years," said Drummond, the NFC Pro Bowl returner just two years ago, "but the other coaches never gave me a chance. As soon as Mike Martz came in he said he was going to give me an opportunity to play as long as I proved myself in practice and games, and I have."
In the Lions' four preseason games, Drummond led all receivers with 13 receptions for 157 yards and a touchdown, while returning five punts for a meager 2.4-yard average and two kickoffs for a 20.5-yard average.
Drummond had an NFL-best 13.2-yard punt return average and an NFL-second best mark of 26.6-yard average when he was selected for the Pro Bowl in 2004, but his average dropped to 6.0 on punt returns and 22.0 on kickoff returns last year.
And, while special teams coach Chuck Priefer has him back in his familiar roles, Drummond will have to improve his production if the Lions are to get the special teams help they need from him. But he admits, his focus has been in other areas.
"Chuck Priefer is so mad at me right now, because special teams is secondary to me even though I went to the Pro Bowl for special teams," Drummond said, grinning. "I had to put it secondary so I could achieve my goal as a receiver."
It probably won't take Drummond long to get back in Priefer's good graces if he starts turning out yards at the Pro Bowl rate again but part of that will depend on the help he gets from his special teams teammates.
Injuries were part of the problem for Drummond on returns in 2005, as was the makeup of special teams.
"That was due to me coming back too soon from an injury and basically half of the blockers I had from the Pro Bowl season before that were gone or switched up," Drummond said. "So it was a whole new set of guys. When you have that, it's hard to have a successful team. The Pro Bowl (blockers) I had, I was with them for three years. That's why we were so good."
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Ahman Green hasn't played an entire game in nearly a year, but head coach Mike McCarthy plans to ride his workhorse running back from start to finish Sunday.
The Packers' season opener against archrival Chicago at Lambeau Field marks Green's first regular-season game since he sustained a ruptured quadriceps tendon last Oct. 23 at Minnesota.
"If you ain't juiced up for this, I don't know what else can get you juiced up for - a game that's a divisional game, that's a rivalry game," Green said. "For myself, (it's) the first game in 11 months. If I can't and the guys on this team can't get amped up come Sunday, I don't know what else you can say or do."
Green was eased back into practice the first part of training camp and played briefly in only the final two exhibition games. The extent of his action was rushing eight times for 18 yards in a quarter and a half against Cincinnati on Aug. 28 and then reaching the end zone from three yards out in his only carry against Tennessee four days later.
Saying Green's conditioning is up to snuff, McCarthy is optimistic he can get optimum efficiency out of the four-time Pro Bowler out of the gate.
"With Ahman's history, we're going to push it as far as he can go," McCarthy said. "Time will tell."
Green last held up for a full game on Sept. 25, when he carried the football 19 times for 58 yards in a loss to Tampa Bay. A week later, Green aggravated the preexisting quadriceps injury in the second half of a loss at Carolina.
Green isn't sure how many carries are realistic for him Sunday. He hasn't had 20 rushing attempts since an NFC wild-card playoff loss to Minnesota on Jan. 9, 2005.
"Whatever is given, I have to go out there and give 110 percent and run whatever amount of plays I get full speed," Green said.
If Green can weather some early hits from the Bears' aggressive defense, the carries should add up. McCarthy has vowed to pound the football this season, partly in an effort to minimize the risky throws by Brett Favre, who had a career- and league-high 29 interceptions last season.
"That will be something that we have to do every week," right tackle Mark Tauscher said. "You'll probably be able to tell just from our success standpoint how we did running the football. If we win games, it's going to come down to us being able to run the football. If we're not successful running the football, we're going to struggle. So, it's going to be a key element to what we're trying to get done."
Having indicated in the past that he would prefer a pass-to-run ratio of 53 to 47 percent, McCarthy will try to keep Green fresh for the end of games by giving Samkon Gado and Noah Herron a good amount of carries.
The way coach McCarthy works and (offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski) works, they're (committed) to the run," Green said. "That's what they've been saying since Day 1 (of off-season workouts) on March 20, and that's what we definitely believe and what we know we've got to do, especially against a team like Chicago. Unless coach McCarthy makes a change here or there, I know pretty much we're going to be running the ball."
Given that he'll be running behind a line with two rookie guards, it might be asking a lot in Green's first official game back for him to reach the 100-yard plateau, however. He hasn't done so in his last 12 games after racking up 145 yards against Minnesota on Nov. 14, 2004.