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We didn't stumble across Donald Driver's assessment of the Bears' wide receivers until a big headline was plastered across ProFootballTalk.com, but the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel came across something that position coach Darryl Drake might want to print out and stick in his training camp bag. Now.

Driver, talking to Sirius NFL Radio, was very complimentary of the Bears' acquisition of quarterback Jay Cutler, and had nice things to say about the offensive line, running back Matt Forte and the defense. But the wideouts ... what wideouts?

"I think Chicago did a great job, and Lovie Smith went out there and got Jay Cutler to lead this team, but one thing they don't have is they don't have the receiver group," Driver said. "They have the running back, they have the offensive line and they have a great defense. But you're going to have to need receivers to make plays down the field, and they don't have that right now. So I can see on our end we have all of that on our offense. And then you go back to look at Minnesota. Minnesota has a great running game, but they just don't have the top-of-the-line quarterback that they need. So I'm hoping my guy [Brett Favre] doesn't go over there, but if he does then I wish the best for him."

The way the Bears' wideouts played against Green Bay last season, Driver may have let them off easy. Packers cornerbacks Al Harris and Charles Woodson did a public mugging of the wide receivers in the first meeting. The Bears managed to lose 37-3 and in the process they completed four passes to wide receivers. Yes, they lost by five touchdowns (minus one extra point) and couldn't get five passes to the biggest playmakers on offense.

Brandon Lloyd has two receptions for 17 yards.

Rashied Davis had one receptions for 36 yards.

Devin Hester had one reception for seven yards.

Four catches. 60 yards.

Granted, that was the week Kyle Orton came back a week too early from an ankle injury but Orton wasn't the only player struggling at Lambeau Field.

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It's been a while since we went through the mailbag so we'll knock out more than four questions this morning in Four Down Territory as we take a little break from the position-by-position previews that have been running in our 30-day countdown to Bourbonnais. Here we go.

Q: What about a contract extension for Danieal Manning? He's slated to have an uncanny season at kick returner which means, of course, that the Bears will need the extra money to give him an extension and convert him to wide receiver.

Mike, Parts Unknown

A: Looks like we have a jokester here. Is that Manning switch right after Brian Urlacher is moved to free safety and Chris Zorich is re-signed to play middle linebacker? It's a good question when it comes to Manning. Not sure what he is going to have to do to have an "uncanny" season. Manning would have made the Pro Bowl last season if he had replaced Devin Hester as the kickoff returner about a month prior to the move that was made in Week 11. He averaged 29.7 yards per return, the club's highest total in nearly 35 years, and became only the fifth player in franchise history to top 1,000 yards for a season. Now, consider first that Manning didn't see all of the gimmicks (bloops, squibs, sky kicks, you name it) that Hester did when he was the primary kickoff returner. Opponents will likely pay more attention to Manning this coming season but special teams coordinator Dave Toub is quick to adjust and his schemes have proven the test of time. Defensively, Manning was on the field one-third of the time in 2008, getting 370 snaps out of the 1,111 total. He seemed to make progress as a nickel back, particularly in the second half of the season. Manning was in that role during the spring until a hamstring injury, one of many suffered on the roster, sidelined him and Corey Graham took his place for the last two weeks of OTA's. It looks like Manning will remain in that role entering training camp but if Nathan Vasher nails down the right cornerback job and Craig Steltz winds up being the free safety, the coaching staff might give Graham more of a look at nickel, where he played one game last season. Is there a possibility the club re-signs Manning, who is entering the final year of his contract? Sure. He probably should have been on the list of players we made. But a kickoff returner who does or does not double as a nickel corner isn't going to get a huge contract.


Q: You didn't mention Lance Louis in your preview of the fullbacks. Is there a reason why? Didn't the Bears say he could play tight end as well as fullback when they selected him?

Oscar T., Chicago

A: There is a somewhat popular notion that Lance Louis will reprise the role of William Perry and do some heavy duty work in the backfield. We don't see it happening. We don't see Louis playing any tight end, either. The Bears don't have a spot at tight end for him with Desmond Clark, Greg Olsen, Kellen Davis and Michael Gaines. They don't need a project at the position because they already have one in Davis. Louis, who was issued No. 60, which is an ineligible number, is going to have a hard time making the roster as a seventh-round pick. He'd have an even more difficult time making the 45-man gameday roster, and it's unlikely he'd be active for a possible gimmick play involving him lining up at an eligible position.


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It's wide receiver fever today. Catch it! Let's get right to the mailbag.

Q: Huge Bears fan from New Zealand. Probably the only one in New Zealand so your columns are much appreciated. My question is of course about the wide receiver position. I think the Bears will do fine with what they have but why not improve? What about Matt Jones? The Bears don't have great height at the position and it is known that the coaches love speed. Matt Jones is a monster and ran a 4.37 at his combine in 2005 (even though he might not play as quick in pads). Getting named the beast at the combine shows he has talent. No problem with his hands and he had 65 receptions last year while missing four games. He has experience and is a No. 1 receiver. He would give Devin Hester and the other young receivers time to develop. Also he is 26 and has to be the best option apart from Anquan Boldin. However, I know the Bears probably say they equally value a clean record which is maybe why they haven't touched him. But he has been cleared of any game suspensions and only a fine by the NFL. Will this lead to more interest? I think improving is more important than getting someone with some bad history. A 26-year-old, 6-6 receiver with experience. Why not?

Michael S., New Zealand

A: While Jones has recently been in Arkansas working through a court-mandated program, he's spent much of the offseason working out at the IMG facility in Florida. Jones is said to be in terrific shape and the hope is that he will have multiple offers to choose between. Obviously, the Bears would be a team he'd probably be interested in joining when you consider the depth chart, Jay Cutler and, well, the depth chart. But the later it gets, the less chance there is the Bears get involved with Jones, who learned recently that the NFL will not be imposing any more sanctions against him. You make a good point that he might not play as fast as he timed several years ago. While he was very productive last season in Jacksonville, which has a run-oriented attack, Jones was a possession receiver. We pointed out the work done recently by our friend Eric Edholm over at Pro Football Weekly. He noted that of Jones' 166 career receptions, three have gone for more than 39 yards. However, few consider Jones to be a true No. 1 receiver. While we think Jones would provide an upgrade instantly for the Bears, the Bears believe rookie Juaquin Iglesias can be a productive possession receiver. Perhaps that is a role they have in mind for Earl Bennett as well. If they go outside for a receiver at this point, chances are greater it will be Burress. Unlike Jones, Burress has a whole tangle of issues to sort through, including court issues and then a likely suspension imposed by the league. Stay tuned.


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The Bears didn't make any attempts to deny their interest in upgrading the wide receiver corps going into the draft and in the days following it.

General manager Jerry Angelo said the club likely would have used its first-round pick on a receiver had it not packaged it to get quarterback Jay Cutler. Angelo said the team thought there would be someone potentially special available where they were selecting. With Cutler on board, Angelo then offered his second-round pick to Arizona for Anquan Boldin. Maybe the Cardinals were not that serious about trading the disgruntled star. They reportedly didn't even engage the Bears in talks after the offer.

So as comfortable as Angelo, Ron Turner, Lovie Smith and Cutler himself have said they are with the current cast of Bears' receivers, the team hasn't been shy when it comes to seeking an upgrade. If the Bears are still looking around for help, two free agents remain available and on the surface one is more interesting than the other. Agent Drew Rosenhaus announced earlier today via his Twitter account that a third team has inquired about the services of Plaxico Burress.


"Good news for Plaxico as a 3rd team has just expressed serious interest in signing him. I won't identify any of the teams at their request."

Could the Bears be one of those three teams?



Burress has legal issues in New York but reportedly could make some progress on that thorny matter next month. The New York Jets and Tampa Bay Buccaneers have already been linked to Burress, but he's not going to do any team any good from jail. Burress potentially faces 3 1/2 years in the joint for carrying an unregistered firearm in Manhattan last year, the gun that blew a hole in his leg. There seems to be some thinking that Burress will be able to avoid jail time, or perhaps avoid serving jail time during the season. Of course, that does not address any punishment that will be handed down by the NFL for violation of the league's personal conduct policy, but Burress could very well be in play for 2009. Multiple reports have shot down a report in Wednesday's Miami Herald that he could wind up with the Miami Dolphins.

Then there is the case of ex-Jacksonville wide receiver Matt Jones, who ESPN's Chris Mortenson reported will avoid further suspension from the league for his off-field misdeeds. Jones made 65 catches for 761 yards last season but the Jaguars, badly in need of receiver help, cut him loose. He was busted last summer for possession of cocaine.

We've been tied down with some other football stuff recently so we'll get to five questions in today's Four Down Territory. We'll get to another one on Wednesday so get your questions in and thanks for your patience. Let's get right to it.

Q: I have to disagree with the idea of a wide receiver in Round 2. Earl Bennett was a bust last season but given the typical trajectory of NFL receivers and the fact that they usually take two to three years to click, isn't it worth the risk to see if he develops this season? Especially given the unusual circumstance of having a playmaking and familiar quarterback now on the team? Bennett is in his best possible position to succeed and I think the Bears should realize he's got a better chance of making an impact than a rookie second rounder, a spot where the busts far outweigh the impact players. Busts can come from any position, but I think the Bears may find a safer gamble should they look for a safety (as you noted) or even a guard or defensive tackle at that spot. Seeking a veteran wide receiver to add now and a rookie in the later rounds would be just as wise, I think, and concentrate on defense in this draft.

Chris M., Pasadena, Calif.

A: I don't think you can call a player a bust after evaluating just one season, and I've certainly not said Bennett will be a bust. But his 2008 rookie season only created more questions about his future. Your concerns are valid, that there are no sure things in drafting a wide receiver in the second round. That being said, the same concerns have to be in place for a receiver selected in the third round like Bennett. I don't think there is a risk involved to selecting a receiver in the second round this season, I think the Bears would give themselves a better chance of succeeding. If they don't go after a receiver at the beginning of the draft and if Bennett does not pan out, then where is the offense? As you suggested, it takes a few years for a receiver to develop. That only ensures the offense is set back further. We'll see what happens.


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