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Come on, Bears. Acknowledge the obvious! The local media's Bears coverage on Sunday zeroed in on the status of the team's wide receivers. There was some chatter about Johnny Knox no longer being a starting wide receiver; that Roy Williams had so far taken his spot in the starting lineup during practices. Say it ain't so! (and stop forcing me to use so many exclamation points.)
"The obvious" is that Knox, who has the speed (and the receiving skills) the Bears absolutely have to utilize on the outside, must start at wide receiver opposite Williams.
And this means the Bears are required to suck it up and acknowledge once and for all what a decent number of commentators who are paying at least a little bit of attention have stated numerous times in the past year:
Devin Hester is the perfect slot receiver in Mike Martz's offense. The Bears have resisted this reality because Hester is paid like a star wide receiver and they have been determined to show he can be stellar out wide. But he could be the greatest slot receiver of all time (to go with being the greatest return man of all time - not a bad combo) if the Bears would just position him between the wide receiver and the tight end the majority of the time and give him a simple set of plays to remember.
The most sensible starting lineup for a Bears offense that must usually use the pass to set up the run (because their by-far strongest player is their passer, that Jay Cutler guy) is a one-back set featuring Matt Forte off-set to one side in the backfield. New physical tight end Matt Spaeth then covers the tackle on the other side, giving the team perfect balance in protection - if defenders blitz from the one side, Spaeth handles it, from the other (or up the middle), Forte steps up. If they don't blitz, Spaeth and/or Forte head out on delayed receiving routes.
This is assuming Spaeth beats out returning fourth-year man Kellen Davis for the starting tight end spot - and that shouldn't be a sure thing. When he's had the chance, Davis has shown a knack for finding the end zone the last few years (and then he has shown his athleticism by blasting off and easily dunking the football over the crossbar despite weighing in at almost 270 pounds). With Greg Olsen gone, Davis should definitely get more chances, if not in the starting lineup then in multiple tight end sets.
Of course the team works a zillion variations off the basic set, but that is where they start, and that means they line up with three receivers. Knox sets up wide on one side, Williams the other and Hester must be inserted in the slot on whichever side. Earl Bennett sneaks in and subs for one of these guys reasonably frequently, especially on third-downs when Cutler needs his old security blanket from way back at Vanderbilt.
In fact, because tight end Greg Olsen is gone, Hester is even more perfect in the slot spot than he was last year.
We'll always remember that awesome 58-yard touchdown catch against Seattle in the playoffs last year (one of the best things about Martz, which was so on display in that game, is that he starts thinking about going for the touchdown before his team even reaches midfield).
Thanks for the memory, Greg. But this Bears fan is just glad the Bears managed to turn you into a third-round pick. The only way the Bears could get the ball to Olsen in Martz's passing offense was when he was a sort of hybrid slot receiver/tight end. As long as the Bears could set him up in a spot where he wouldn't get jammed up by a linebacker at the line of scrimmage and/or get blanketed by a strong safety in the secondary, they were all set.
Except that doesn't end up happening very often against decent NFL defenses and that's why Olsen's stats were less than impressive last year to say the least (41 catches for 404 yards and five touchdowns). In a given game he was much more likely to be a non-factor than he was to give a defense something to really worry about
Martz would rather fill the field with as many wide receivers as possible (with the Bears, that number will continue to be held down by the fact that extra guys will frequently be needed to help with protection) than waste time dreaming up special ways for the tight end to get open. So Olsen was never going to make maximum sense. Hester in the slot does.
The Starlin Castro Show
A bit off advice: Even if you've stopped paying attention because the team is so bad, don't forget to at least keep checking in on the Cubs every once in a while to monitor Starlin Castro's amazing season. The second-year shortstop just wrapped up a remarkable week at the plate.
In seven games against the Pirates and Reds from Monday to Sunday, Castro piled up 17 hits. And for once this season, his teammates then helped him turn those hits into runs, totaling 10 of them in the same span. Two of the hits were doubles and two were home runs. It must also be noted that Castro only managed two walks during that time.
The surge put Castro well atop the National League in total hits, with 150. The Mets' Jose Reyes is the only player within 12 of that number, having totaled 144 so far.
But a discussion of Castro's hitting must also take into account his primary shortcoming. And that is thrown into stark relief by the fact that while Castro is now eighth in the league in hitting at .314, he is 33rd in on-base percentage (.342) and 35th in on-base-plus-slugging (.779). The bottom line is, the guy is worth the price of admission . . . well . . . he's definitely worth the price of upper deck reserved admission.
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