How about Earl Bennett as No. 1 WR?

June, 1, 2011
6/01/11
2:00
PM ET
Have we missed something in our never-ending discussion about the Chicago Bears' receivers? Are the Bears planning an internal swap of roles and priorities for the 2011 season?

[+] EnlargeEarl Bennett
Rick Stewart/Getty ImagesEarl Bennett, who had 46 catches for 561 yards and three touchdowns, may get more passes this season.
That question seems relevant after this week's comments from Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz, who told the team's website that Earl Bennett didn't see enough passes in 2010.

"That will be remedied," Martz said. "He will figure in a much larger role than he did last year. He came to us late. He was injured. I wasn't really sure where he was with all the stuff. But he established himself as a guy who needs to get a lot more balls than he did."

According to STATS Inc., the Bears targeted Bennett on 70 passes in 14 games. That was more than fellow receiver Devin Hester, who was targeted 68 times, and not that far behind team leader Johnny Knox (98). Don't forget that Knox (16) played in two more games than Bennett (14) last season.

So if the Bears targeted Bennett more times than all but one of their receivers, even as he played on less than 50 percent of their snaps (via the Chicago Tribune), what can we expect for 2011? Martz provided one clue when he said: "He's extremely reliable. I know Jay [Cutler] feels comfortable with him in the slot doing some of those things. But he should be able to play outside for us as well."

That tells me Bennett is likely to start opposite Knox in Martz's scheme, with Hester serving perhaps a less prominent role. That would jibe with what coach Lovie Smith said in March at the NFL owners meeting, where he suggested the Bears could be more efficient with Hester's playing time on offense. Indeed, Smith said he would like to "take away some of his reps and get him involved in the ones where he's out there."

A true No. 1 receiver is typically targeted more than 150 times per season. Larry Fitzgerald of the Arizona Cardinals and Reggie Wayne of the Indianapolis Colts lead the NFL with 175. I don't think Bennett will approach that total, but it's fun to consider the possibilities if Martz unleashes him to maximize his connection with Cutler, his long-time friend and quarterback.

Of the 70 passes thrown his way last season, Bennett caught 46. He dropped only one, according to video analysis from ESPN Stats & Information, and thus had the seventh-best catch percentage in the NFL. Let's see: A receiver with strong quarterback chemistry, nearly perfect hands and a green light from the offensive coordinator? If nothing else, fantasy players should take note.

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