Will Earl Bennett make a return to the starting lineup, or will the team's faith in Hester and the talents of Jeffrey push Bennett down the depth chart?
Our Projecting Starters series has covered the defensive side of the ball so far (except cornerback, but frankly I think Jennings is a lock to start week one), and now it's time to turn the potentially great offense the Bears could have in 2012. I'm going to go out on a limb and say Jay Cutler is our starting quarterback, Matt Forte (if/when he signs) will be our starting running back, and Brandon Marshall will take one of the starting wide receiver spots (okay, so it was a small limb). However, the other starting wide receiver positions are wide open due to a variety of causes. The injury to Johnny Knox takes him out of the running (get healthly, buddy), but Devin Hester and Earl Bennett now have to deal with a rookie in Alshon Jeffrey that simply can do things they can't (like grab things off the top shelf). Hit the jump to look at our candidates to start at wide receiver.
With Marshall as the clear cut number one wideout, the Bears can breathe easily knowing that Cutler finally has a guy that doesn't need to fulfill his potential at wideout because he's already reached it with five straight years of at least eighty catches and one thousand yards. There is going to be battle for the other two starting wide receiver positions for the Bears, with each having unique skillsets compared to the rest (and yes, we're going with three starting wideouts for the Bears in this scenario, since we figure to see a lot of three-receiver sets and I think week one is going to be about unleashing our passing attack). The three wide receivers mentioned above include one rookie with a high ceiling as a potential future number one wideout (Jeffrey), one who was always a solid #2 (Bennett), and the enigma who was paid to be a number one but isn't one (Hester).
Bennett is the known product out of the three. He was limited last year to eleven games due to a chest injury, but in his prior two seasons he averaged fifty catches and has the best hands on the team. He's reliable, dependent, and has a great connection with Cutler going back to Vanderbilt. Bennett has the track record to be a steady contributor on the field for the offense, even if he's not going to blow you away with big plays. His job is to get first downs, run underneath the defense, and not drop the ball (which should be the job of every wideout, but not everyone actually does it).
Hester is the enigma, because despite glowing reviews from every person in camp (I half expect Virginia to open a twitter account just to pile on the Hester-love), there seems to be a discontent between what he's shown on the field and what people are saying about him in camp. Yes, Hester topped fifty catches and six hundred yards in both 2008 and 2009, but those were the "let's prove he's worth his new contract" years, and obviously, he didn't do enough then to warrant status as a clear cut starting wideout. Hester has the chance, though, to be the main deep weapon for the Bears with Knox out. That, coupled with HesterFest aka Bears' camp reviews from coaches and teammates idolitarizing him, could put him in the starting lineup. Although that doesn't mean he'll be out there much.
Alshon Jeffrey, the third of the amigos, is exactly what we've been looking for as fans: good size, great athletic ability, solid hands and a potential touchdown machine in the endzone. The rookie will have to prove to notorious ageist Lovie Smith that he deserves to play. It's always difficult to project rookie wide receivers, but if Jeffrey is able to pick up the playbook fast enough and can prove his worth in the red zone, Lovie may have to put him somewhere on the field to start the year. Or, at least, he can let Alshon toss around Earl and Devin around during touchdown celebrations.
Hit the poll up to vote with the two guys you think will be starting with Marshall. I put them in pairs, so its irrelevant whose name comes first. Just vote for the pair you think will be on the field with Marshall.
Who will be the Bears starting #2 and #3 wideouts on Opening Day?
Hester and Bennett (425 votes)
Bennett and Jeffrey (817 votes)
Hester and Jeffrey (120 votes)
Other (explain in comments) (14 votes)
1376 total votes