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Saving the biggest puzzle for last, we conclude our position-by-position training camp previews with, what else, the wide receivers.

Projected starters: Devin Hester, 5-11, 190, 4th season, Miami; Earl Bennett, 6-0, 204, 2nd season, Vanderbilt

Others

Devin Aromashodu, 6-2, 201, 3rd season, Auburn
John Broussard, 6-1, 181, 2nd season, San Jose State
Rashied Davis, 5-9, 187, 5th season, San Jose State
Juaquin Iglesias, 6-1, 205, Rookie, Oklahoma
Derek Kinder, 6-1, 202, Rookie, Pittsburgh
Johnny Knox, 6-0, 185, Rookie, Abilene Christian
Eric Peterman, 6-1, 202, Rookie Northwestern
Brandon Rideau, 6-3, 198, 3rd season, Kansas

Projected depth chart

WR: Hester, Davis, Knox
WR: Bennett, Iglesias, Rideau

2009 salary cap numbers

Devin Aromashodu $465,200
Earl Bennett $595,409
John Broussard $390,200
Rashied Davis $1,581,666
Devin Hester $6,885,833
Juaquin Iglesias $554,900
Derek Kinder $319,416
Johnny Knox $361,060
Eric Peterman $310,666
Brandon Rideau $465,200

Number of wide receivers on the roster at the start of the 2008 season: 6

Projected number of wide receivers on 2009 roster at start of the season: 6

The skinny: From general manager Jerry Angelo on down the Bears know they don't have this position where it needs to be. Angelo acknowledged the Bears would have used their first-round draft pick on a wide receiver had they not traded the pick to acquire Jay Cutler. Then, he tried to trade for Anquan Boldin when the draft began. Finally, the Bears did enough snooping around on Plaxico Burress to earn their Jr. Inspector Clouseau badge. Think right about now Burress wishes now he'd done his couple months in the pokey? It looks highly unlikely that Burress will help Cutler and the Bears this season and that puts the onus on Cutler to make some of these players better. Ideally, the Bears would be in a situation where they would only keep five receivers on the roster, but if Iglesias (third round) and Knox (fifth round) earn roster spots, as expected, they'll probably need to try to cover for the inexperience with numbers. Say what you want, and we're not demeaning any of the players at this position, but it's a quantity over quality matter here. Quite frankly, that could help Rideau in his bid to win a job.



So how much better can Cutler make the Bears' receivers? There is certainly something to a quarterback making a wide receiver better but he's not the difference between Eddie Royal's 91 catches as a rookie last season in Denver and Bennett's 0 catches as a rookie last season. Cutler isn't going to clone Brandon Marshall in the Olivet Nazarene dorm rooms, either. He can make the receivers better and that starts with them developing a trust and a rapport. Cutler has to know what the receiver is going to do before he does it. That comes with reps, lots of them.

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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.

Earlier this week it looked like the Bears were in a position where they had to draft an offensive tackle in the first round.

What a difference a few days makes. Not only do the Bears not have a first-round pick any longer after acquiring quarterback Jay Cutler from Denver, they filled a pressing need on the line by signing seven-time Pro Bowl left tackle Orlando Pace.

That leaves the Bears with a complete line, minus a young tackle to eventually join Chris Williams in the starting lineup, and some flexibility when it comes to the draft, right?

Wrong.

The addition of Cutler has made it a virtual lock the Bears will have to draft a wide receiver when their pick comes up in the second round, 49th overall, the 17th pick of the round. The idea that Cutler will make the cast they currently have better is only going to go so far. There is no Brandon Marshall on this roster. There might not be an Eddie Royal on the roster either depending on how Devin Hester progresses. Marshall and Royal gave Cutler one of the better 1-2 combinations in the league in Denver.

"I don't think quarterbacks make receivers, and I don't think receivers make the quarterback,'' Cutler said. "It's a joint mesh there, we've got to both be on the same page. I've got to deliver the ball and they've got to be in the right place. I can't do it without them, and they can't do it without me."

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The Bears' pursuit of Orlando Pace got us thinking more about the possibility they will draft a wide receiver in the first round. If the Bears sign Pace, it greatly reduces the chance that an offensive tackle is not a target in the early rounds in the draft.

A wide receiver might be the No. 1 target already. It is not difficult to build a case for the Bears needing to draft a wideout in the first round. Sure, it's easy to come up with some reasons for why the club will stay away from a receiver in Round 1. Most notable, of course, is the track record of general manager Jerry Angelo. You can't ignore that, It's not something he does and it may take a strong effort from the coaching and scouting staffs to talk him into it.

The last time Angelo drafted a receiver in the first round was 1997 when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers chose Reidel Anthony with the 16th pick. Anthony's numbers are not very different from those put up by David Terrell, the wideout selected in the first round (8th overall) by the Bears in 2001, less than two months before Angelo was hired. Let's look at Angelo's track record for drafting receivers by round. Cover your eyes if you have a weak stomach. This isn't a pretty list and you can make a strong argument Bernard Berrian is the best of the bunch although Mark Carrier, a third-round pick of the Bucs in 1987, had a nice career. Here we go:

Following up on our post earlier about drafting wide receivers in the first round and the strike/bust ratio, we'll look at the history of the position in the second round.

It doesn't get better.

There was an amazing run on wideouts in the second round of the draft last year as 10 were selected. Denver's Eddie Royal and Philadelphia's DeSean Jackson enjoyed breakout rookie seasons both on offense and special teams. St. Louis' Donnie Avery also had a terrific season in a broken-down offense. The jury is out on the rest of the bunch.

Since the 2000 draft, a span of nine drafts, 41 wide receivers have been selected in the second round. Three of them have gone to the Pro Bowl as a receiver with Cincinnati's Chad Ocho Cinco and Arizona's Anquan Boldin being the standouts. Some of these names you probably forgot long ago.

The Bears have a need for a wide receiver for this coming season.

They have a need for two wide receivers and never has the need been more apparent then after watching Super Bowl XLIII.

But drafting one in the first round is no guarantee to solve the problem, a fact we touched on a little bit in today's paper. While spending much of our Monday in the airport, we did a little research on the wide receivers drafted in the first round since 2000. It's a scary bunch. General manager Jerry Angelo has said before that's where you have to go to find an elite receiver. The problem is everybody has found a lot of non-elite receivers too. This isn't just a situation where the Detroit Lions swing and miss seeking a wideout at the top of the draft.

Thirty-seven wide receivers have been drafted in the first round since 2000. By our count, nine have been named to the Pro Bowl. The list:

TAMPA, Fla.--The entire NFL has officially entered the offseason.

Well, everyone not headed to Honolulu for the Pro Bowl any way.

We're going to fire up Four Down Territory again beginning Tuesday after we make our way home. We've already got a host of questions to pick through and we'll need more as the week moves along.

Our initial reaction coming out of Raymond James Stadium Sunday night is that the Bears really need to address the wide receiver position. Look at what the top teams in the league had, look at how they challenged one another in the closing minutes of a riveting fourth quarter. It comes down to playmakers. The Bears have one, they hope, in the making in Devin Hester. And nothing else.

Bears general manager Jerry Angelo jumped on the air with Mully & Hanley this morning on the Score, 670-AM.

We'll break it down fully here soon, but here are some highlights:

1. He looks at Kyle Orton with the arrow pointing up. Orton started very well, injured his right ankle, and was inconsistent in the second half of the season. He wans the position "solifidied in terms of winning football week in and week out." Calls the QB position the Achilles heel under his watch.

2. Bears need to "look at every position on offense" but "you win because of the quarterback."

3. "We need to look at every option" when it comes to QB position.

Start the countdown to the 2009 NFL Draft.

Well, we don't have to do that, do we? Many of you have started the countdown to the draft already.

It is 100 days away. The Bears and most teams pulled out of Houston today after nearly a week at the East-West Shrine Game, evaluating the rosters. They'll regroup before heading to Mobile, Ala., for the Senior Bowl this weekend. That is where the premier senior prospects land. Then, all roads lead to Indianapolis where the combine will be held in Lucas Oil Stadium for the first time.

Sticking with the draft as a theme, we'll dive into today's version of Four Down Territory.

Q: What type of compensatory draft pick can the Bears expect to receive?

Multiple readers

A: The Bears appear to be in good shape this year after losing wide receiver Bernard Berrian, tight end John Gilmore and special teams ace Brendon Ayanbadejo in free agency. Compensatory picks are awarded each March at the ends of rounds three through seven in the draft to the teams that suffer the most net losses in free agency.

The question I had on this matter was whether or not re-signing linebacker Lance Briggs would count against the Bears. After all, Briggs didn't return to the team until after he had entered the open market as a UFA. For the answer to that, we turned to NFL spokesman Greg Aiello:

We're getting a late start on dipping into our mailbag today. The Jon Hoke hiring and Lovie Smith teleconference tied us up for the majority of the day. Typically, we want to get to the Q&A's a little earlier.

But before we do that, there are a couple links that are worth checking out in regards to the East-West Shrine Game, where Bears general manager Jerry Angelo and the scouting staff are for the week.

This gives a nice primer to set the week up down in Houston.

Here's a practice report that gives props to Jason Williams, the Chicago linebacker who had a fine career at Western Illinois. It's good stuff to get you in a combine and draft frame of mind.

Now to Four Down Territory.

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.''

You don't have to look beyond the production of the Bears' wide receivers this past season to know it's a problem area. A case can be made the position has not been in more disarray in the Lovie Smith era, and the Bears used four starters at the position in 2008 for the third time in five years under Smith.

Rashied Davis led the group with 12 starts followed by Devin Hester (eight), Marty Booker (five) and Brandon Lloyd (five). It was the first time one player did not make at least 15 starts, and the position is in need of an overhauling. General manager Jerry Angelo has made one impact free-agent signing at the position in bringing in Muhsin Muhammad before the 2005 season.

In the last five drafts Angelo has used three picks in the first three rounds on receivers--Bernard Berrian (third round, 2004), Mark Bradley (second round, 2005) and Earl Bennett (third round, 2008). Obviously, Bennett is the only one still on the roster and he didn't make a catch last season in 10 games, although most of his time was spent on special teams.

The point Angelo made in his end-of-season press conference was that wide receivers and running backs are secondary when it comes to the quarterback. There's some truth to that. A No. 1 wide receiver isn't going to be a No. 1 receiver if he doesn't have a quarterback who can get him the ball consistently every week. Larry Fitzgerald wouldn't have been Larry Fitzgerald last season in the Bears' offense.

With the opening of free agency 49 days away, we'll look at the crop of receivers who are available in free agency below. First, here is how the Bears have lined up in the starting lineup at the position since Smith took over:

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This page is an archive of recent entries in the Wide receivers category.

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