BOURBONNAIS -- The common view from national media and fans in cities outside Chicago is quarterback Jay Cutler has no one at wide receiver for targets.
A national lice infestation might not have resulted in the amount of head scratching caused when the Bears failed to sign free agent Torry Holt, quickly opted out of the trade talk for Anquan Boldin and Brandon Marshall, and never gave a second thought to Terrell Owens.
All this occurred in a year without a salary cap. After giving up everything except the George Halas fedora in Halas Hall's display case to sign defensive end Julius Peppers, the Bears had no excuse for turning their nose at available wide receivers except that they simply think they're already set.
General manager Jerry Angelo, coach Lovie Smith and staff have full confidence in Devin Hester, Earl Bennett, Devin Aromashodu, Johnny Knox and Juaquin Iglesias.
"I feel like on the offensive side of the football we're going to move the ball," coach Lovie Smith said. "It's about scoring. We feel like we have the guys in place to do that.
"I'm excited about Jay Cutler's second year here. Of course, he's the leader of our offense. We like what he's done adjusting to a new offense, just leading some of our young receivers: Hester, Knox, Aromashodu. They should have outstanding seasons."
The Bears signed Devin Hester a few years ago to a $40 million deal and paid him like a No. 1 receiver. Now they aren't too happy when someone points out that Hester catches about as many passes as a No. 2 receiver.
On Saturday, receivers coach Darryl Drake was getting a bit irked when questioned why Hester isn't an elite receiver.
"It bothers me that you even ask me that," he said. "It really does. It bothers me that you even ask me that again because it's the same thing I've been hearing for years."
Drake finds nothing wrong with Hester's route running.
"Who says that he's not really a route runner?" Drake demanded. "I guess it's people who haven't been out there watching, or watch him run a route or watch his body control. If somebody says that, that tells me how really non-visual football that they are. That really does.
"When people say he's not really a good route runner, boy, that is ignorance at its highest level."
No one questions Hester's speed, so coordinator Mike Martz's offense should suit him. It's designed with deep routes in mind.
Just to make sure he has the proper route running skills, Hester worked on his own in the off-season with former Martz receiver Isaac Bruce in Florida. Bruce is coming to Bourbonnais later in the week to help Drake work with all the receivers.
Drake went beyond Hester in defense of his wide receivers. He called it the best group he's had since coming here in 2004. This includes the Bernard Berrian-Muhsin Muhammad duo of the Super Bowl XLI season.
"Because we've got a lot of guys who can do a lot of different things," Drake said. "We've got guys who can be possession guys, we've got guys who can run, we've got guys who have got run after catch.
"Usually in the past we were lacking something. It may have been run after catch, they may have had straight-line speed but we may have lacked run after catch. We may have had a possession guy, we may not have had the straight-line speed. Now I think we've got a combination of all of them."
No one questions the tight ends. In fact, when the Bears opened practices Friday, Cutler targeted tight ends repeatedly and did nothing to disprove the old football adage that "the quarterback's best friend is the tight end."
Desmond Clark, Greg Olsen, Kellen Davis and Richard Angulo made one difficult catch after another all over the field -- in stride, leaping, diving, and Angulo even made a one-hander going out of bounds.
Weary of talk that Martz doesn't use his tight ends as receivers, Clark quickly turned the tables on the media afterward.
"We’re not going to catch any balls in the offense; let’s keep that going," he said facetiously. "We’re not going to catch any balls. We’ll just be blocking tight ends and that’s how we’ll contribute to the offense.
"That’s what we’re going to do this year.”
While it might be good to know the tight ends can catch passes, they're certainly not fast enough to spread a defense out all the way down field like Martz wants. Martz says his goal is to make the opponent defend the entire field on every play.
Aromashodu, Knox, Hester and Bennett made big strides as last season wore on, but now they've got a new offense to learn and there have been some who questioned whether Hester -- in particular -- is up for such a task based on the fact he never even played the position in college or his first season in Chicago.
“Just working with those guys for a year, you just see the dramatic growth that they’ve made," Cutler said. "With Johnny and even with D.A. and even with Devin Hester and we’ve got Earl in there -- he’s coming off a little bit of an injury -- just coming together as a group. And then you add Rashied (Davis).
"That whole group, I expect them to look totally different this year.”
They looked totally different late last season than at the beginning. They're going to have to look completely different again in this offense or the failure of Angelo to acquire an established top receiving threat will hang around his neck like a big, lead anchor.
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