PITTSBURGH--Because Jerry Angelo is not going to lose sight of the quarterback position, we're going to keep it in focus this offseason and suggest you do the same.
But in evaluating the Bears' passing game, and the struggles over a long period of time, we need to cover all areas. Wide receivers coach Darryl Drake, an original member of Lovie Smith's 2004 staff, has taken some criticism for the lack of production at the position. There is no disputing the Bears have not put up big numbers at the receiver position. Marty Booker was the last to top 1,000 yards, and he did that in 2002. It's been an organizational concern long before Drake arrived too.
Don't blame the position coach, that's what three-time second team All-Pro Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward said.
"Any criticism of him is not fair,'' Ward said. ``Look at the quarterback situation. They don't have a stable quarterback. I know the quarterback situation there and I don't care who you bring in to catch the ball. You could bring in the best receiver in the league. Look at Randy Moss going out to Oakland and what happened there. His stats went down. It wasn't based on Randy, it was based on the quarterback play.''
Bernard Berrian had a breakthrough season in 2007, but 71 catches for 951 yards and five touchdowns were still modest numbers when you looked around the league. Berrian went on to riches in Minnesota, Muhsin Muhammad returned to Carolina and the Bears got very little production from the position this past season beyond small strides made by Devin Hester. At least the rest of the players were there on the cheap.
So, a day after watching ex-Bear Justin Gage catch 10 passes for 135 yards in Tennessee's divisional round playoff loss to Baltimore, we tracked down Ward in the Pittsburgh locker room Sunday night to ask him about Drake and get an outsider's perspective on the Bears' situation. Gage isn't the only former Bears receiver to find success elsewhere. Bobby Wade has found a niche in Minnesota. Mark Bradley had 30 catches for 380 yards and three touchdowns in limited duty in Kansas City after he was cut loose. Is it possible they're applying what they learned at Halas Hall elsewhere?
Drake coached Ward at Georgia when he was a quarterback-turned-receiver, so he's qualified to speak about him as a coach.
"It's unfair for Drake to be criticized because you have to factor in the quarterback play there,'' Ward said. ``If you're not getting quality quarterback play, it's hard for any receiver to put up huge numbers or really go out and do something. That's not to say that Muhsin or Berrian were any less as wideouts, it's just the quarterback situation Chicago had, they didn't know who was going to be quarterback week to week. When you have that, a lot of that is reflected on the wideouts. It's unfair. Drake is a phenomenal coach. He's coached a lot of guys in this league. He was my college coach and the player you see out on the field today has a lot to do with coach Drake.
"He motivated me. I got recruited as a quarterback and I didn't know anything about wideout. I played two years under him and all and all, he taught me the game itself, how to block, how to be a complete player and I owe it all to him. The quarterback has a major factor in what the receivers are going to do.''
What Ward says makes sense. You're not going to bring out the best in a wide receiver if you're not getting strong play from the quarterback. Kyle Orton may get some competition in the form of a free agent but don't look for Angelo to start adding too many pieces around his quarterback until he is convinced he has the right one.
"We have to get that position right,'' Angelo said. "I know that there is going to be a lot of talk about a No. 1 receiver. It starts with the quarterback. It's all about the quarterback. You don't win because of wide receivers. You don't win because of running backs. You win because of the quarterback. We've got to get the quarterback position stabilized. We're fixated on that and I don't want us to lose sight of that.''
After holding court at his locker for more than a half-hour, Ward was ready to leave Heinz Field but added a comment before departing.
``Drake's on my speed dial,'' he said. ``I've probably got a message from him right now. He's a good man and a good coach.''