Chicago Bears Season-End Review, Part IV: The Wide Receivers and Tight Ends

Bryan DietzlerSenior Analyst IFebruary 8, 2011

CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 23:  Johnny Knox #13 of the Chicago Bears runs ahead of Tramon Williams #38 of the Green Bay Packers for a 32-yard gain in the fourth quarter in the NFC Championship Game at Soldier Field on January 23, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

The Bears went into the 2010 season with many questions surrounding their wide receiving corps.  Many felt that this group would not be up to the challenges that new offensive coordinator Mike Martz’s offense would present and that the Bears would be in trouble right out of the gate.  While the receivers did struggle at first, they picked things up as the season went along and ended up playing much better than anyone thought that they would.

Another problem heading into the season was what to do with tight end Greg Olsen.  The offensive schemes that Martz had run in the past didn’t utilize the tight end position that often and so it was thought that tight end Greg Olsen would go the way of the dinosaur.  Some felt that the Bears couldn’t deploy him effectively in their offense because whenever he was in the game it was likely that quarterback Jay Cutler was going to throw a pass his way.

How exactly did the Bear’s receivers do this past season?  How do they compare statistically?  Where do they stand heading into the 2011 season?

Let’s find out as we take a look at each of the Bears' wide receivers (on the roster) in 2010.

Johnny Knox-Knox ended up being a nice surprise for the Bears in 2010 although he had an up and down season.  All together, Knox caught 51 passes for 960 yards averaging 18.8 yards per catch.  His longest catch was 67 yards and he had five touchdowns in the season.

Knox provides the Bears with great speed on the outside and the ability to stretch the defense.  The only problem is the Bears didn’t give him enough opportunities, especially in the second half of the season.  There were games where Knox shined and others where it looked as if he weren’t even on the field.  His penchant for disappearing wasn’t really his fault; it was more of a product of Cutler not throwing the ball to him as often as he should have.

Knox has decent talent and can be a huge contributor on offense if he is used more.  There is no doubt that he will be back next season and hopefully he’ll be able to contribute more on offense.

Earl Bennett-Bennett was thought to be a goner in training camp last season.  He didn’t practice that much (he had been sidelined with an injury) and it was said that he didn’t really comprehend the playbook that well.  He was probably on the edge of getting cut before the Bears coaching staff pulled back and kept him on the roster.

And it’s a good thing that they did.

Bennett ended up catching 46 passes for 561 yards with an average of 12.2 yards per catch.  His longest catch was 48 yards and he had three touchdowns.

Bennett, like Knox, was not used as much as he should have been during the course of the season.  When Cutler could get him the ball Bennett did some pretty nice things with it.  He had a couple runs where he gained a lot of yards after the catch after breaking some tackles and running with authority.  He’s a strong wide receiver and can break tackles, but, like Knox, needs to be utilized more in the offense.

It’s possible that the Bears will go out and try to find someone to replace Bennett or try to make an upgrade at the wide receiver position that could leave Bennett on the outside looking in when the final roster is set.  Bennett is a good enough that he could be an asset on the team next year but if the Bears go for a bigger possession wide receiver he could be headed out of Chicago.

Greg Olsen-When Martz was hired as the Bear’s offensive coordinator Olsen’s role on the team instantly went into limbo.  In the past, Martz offenses had not used the tight end as a pass catcher and had instead used the tight end as a blocker (an H-Back).  Knowing that Olsen’s blocking skills left something to be desired it was possible that he could have been on his way out of Chicago.

Whether the Bears tried to trade Olsen prior to the start of the 2010 season is still a matter for debate, but they obviously didn’t let him go and kept him around to be used as a blocking and pass catching tight end.  Olsen ended up having some pretty good games for the Bears catching passes and was an important part of their offensive success.

Olsen ended up catching 41 passes for 404 yards with an average of 9.9 yards per catch.  His longest reception was 39 yards and he had five touchdowns.

Look for Olsen to remain with the team in 2011 as they will look to continue to keep him as an important part of the passing game and he should see a lot more passes thrown his way.

Devin Hester-Hester continued his experiment at the wide receiver position last year and did look much better than he had in previous seasons, but didn’t get the kinds of opportunities that perhaps he deserved and could have had a better season.

Granted, some of the reasoning why Hester didn’t have as big of a season at the wide receiver position as some would have hoped was because of his increased value on special teams (again).  We saw Hester get back to the “old Hester” that we saw a couple years prior and as a result the Bears coaching staff took him out of the offense at times to keep him fresh for special teams.

Hester caught a total of 40 passes for 475 yards with an average of 11.9 yards per catch.  His longest catch was 39 yards and had four touchdowns.

The Bears will keep Hester as part of their offense in 2011 but will he see a reduced role now that the Bears see that his primary value remains on special teams.  What happens with Hester will be determined by whether or not the Bears decide to do some work on the wide receiving group by bringing in some additional talent.

If they are able to find some help at the position it’s possible that we could see Hester’s role diminish on offense and increase on special teams.

Devin Aromashodu-Fans called for Aromashodu to start after seeing how well he ended the 2009 season and felt that he would be the answer to the Bears problems of not having a big wide receiver that can go up and catch the ball in traffic as well as out-muscle defenders for the ball.  It was thought he would breakout in 2010 and become the Bears best receiver.

That wasn’t meant to be.

Aromashodu ended up having ten catches for 149 yards with an average of 14.9 yards per catch.  His longest catch was 34 yards and he didn’t have any touchdowns.

The coaching staff stuck Aromashodu in their dog house after he had some problems in the Bears' first game (against the Detroit Lions) and he never really saw much action after that.  If Chicago decides to bring in some players to try out for the position, Aromashodu could be on his way out of Chicago.  He will have to have an excellent training camp in order to stick with the team.

Rashied Davis-Davis was another guy that was on the bubble heading into the regular season, but, just like running back Garrett Wolfe, his special teams value helped him to remain on the team.  As we would find out, he would become very helpful late in the season after Bennett missed some time with an injury.

Overall, Davis caught a total of nine passes for 84 yards averaging 9.3 yards per catch.  His longest catch was 21 yards and he had one touchdown.

Davis is a reliable backup and a good special teams player but he’s certainly not a guy that you would want starting in the lineup week in and week out.  He’s good as a backup but isn’t a long term answer for the Bears at the wide receiver position.  Right now his status for next season is a bit up in the air and he may not see another season in Chicago.

Brandon Manumaleuna-Manumaleuna was brought in as blocking tight end and was paid a lot of money to perform that function.  Unfortunately for the Bears, Manumaleuna didn’t meet any of the expectations that were laid out before him.  His blocking left a lot to be desired and he appeared to be out of shape for most of the season.

Manumaleuna caught five passes for 43 yards with an average of 8.6 yards per catch.  His longest catch was 16 yards and he had one touchdown.

It’s tough to tell right now whether or not the Bears are going to keep Manumaleuna around for another season.  He isn’t a strong blocker and is much more of a liability than an asset.  If he’s not around when Chicago opens the season next year it wouldn’t be a surprise.

Kellen Davis-Davis didn’t see a lot of action at the tight end position in 2010 and saw most of his action on special teams.  He manages to stick with the team because of his special teams ability and does come into the passing game from time to time and can make an impact there (as we saw during their game against the Seahawks in the playoffs).

In 2010, Davis caught just one pass for 19 yards, but that lone catch went for a touchdown.  

Davis may find his way his way back onto the roster next season, especially if the Bears decide not to keep Manumaleuna around for another season.  Davis does need to work on his ability to block (or lack thereof) and if he can improve that he should be able to stay on the roster at the close of training camp.

Desmond Clark-Clark was a forgotten man on offense last season after having a promising training camp and being slotted as the starter at the H-back position prior to the beginning of the season.  He was inactive for almost the entire season and had just one catch for 12 yards.

Clark will probably not be back in a Bear’s uniform in 2011.  They proved to us this year that they really didn’t have a need for him so it’s very likely that he will be gone this offseason.

Andy Fantuz-The Bears just recently signed this wide receiver away from the Canadian Football League’s Saskatchewan Rough Riders and hope that he will contribute at the wide receiver position at some point in the future.  He’s got speed and size and if he can pick up the complicated Martz offense quickly he could see himself playing in 2011.

If the Bears are going have any kind of success on offense next year they need to get a lot of production out of their wide receivers.  There were times last season where the Bears' receivers would have good games, run good routes and catch passes and others where they would be out of sync with Cutler.  Some of this falls on Cutler and some of it falls on his wide receivers.

They have some nice speed with Knox and Hester but lack that true threat in a guy that can stretch the field and make problems for the opposing defense.  Bennett offers some good skill as a possession receiver but he’s had his problems not only staying healthy but learning the playbook and being effective and may not be back in 2011.

Chicago went out and signed Fantuz and he’s a little known prospect but one that could help the Bears in the long run.  He’s got a good build to go with decent speed and can give Chicago a possession-type receiver that they need so desperately.

The Bears should also take a look at some of the wide receivers that could be available in the draft as well as in free agency.  The draft offers some good talent at the position at the top and in the middle and taking a wide receiver or two in the draft is not out of the question.

Free agency, as it stands right now, looks like it will be studded with some good talent but with the problems that are coming due to the lack of a Collective Bargaining Agreement as well as the fact that the Bears fall under the final eight clause (meaning that they can only sign a free agent if they lose one to another team) free agency is going to be less of an option this year.

With a better group of wide receivers to go along with the hopeful improvement of Cutler in 2011, this could be a much better passing offense in 2011.


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