Hub Arkush: Bears still need Earl Bennett

Lathan Goumas - lgoumas@shawmedia.com Wide receiver Earl Bennett catches a pass during the second day of practice at Chicago Bears training camp in Bourbonnais, Ill. on Saturday, July 27, 2013. (Lathan Goumas)

So I’m sitting here scratching my head, quite frankly wishing there were still just a few hairs left to get in the way and trying to remember the last time I got a blank injury report from the Bears on the Friday before a game?

Actually, I don’t think I've ever seen an NFL team injury report with nobody on it. Great news for the Bears and great news for Bears fans, it’s all hands on deck for the Bengals.

Now, who’s going to play and why?

As I wrote for Friday, it’s hard for me to imagine D.J. Williams being able to play and not starting, not because there’s anything wrong with Jon Bostic, just because with his 10 years of experience and athleticism he's at least equal to Bostic if not superior, Williams gives the Bears the best chance to win. Plus, it will make Bostic that much more effective on special teams.

But where exactly does Earl Bennett fit into the Bears’ plans?

According to head coach Marc Trestman on Friday, “I think Earl will play in this game, I don’t know how much, but he’ll play and certainly continue to play more as he works himself into things. But how much he plays will be relative to how he feels out there and what his conditioning level is. He’s very confident he can go the distance. We’ll watch him closely and see.”

A number of folks raised eyebrows in early August when I speculated from Bourbonnais that Bennett could be a salary cap casualty this year with the Bears cap issues and their appreciation of their young wide receivers.

A number of things have happened since then. First Bennett suffered a concussion somewhere between the Bears Fan Night and the first preseason game and missed the rest of the preseason.

Next, it turned out the Bears aren’t as deep at the position as we thought they might be. They still love seventh-round draft choice Marquess Wilson and 2012 undrafted rookie free agent Joe Anderson, but both are completely untested and other than special teams ace Eric Weems, and of course Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, everybody else is gone.

In spite of that, reports surfaced just prior to the final preseason game that the Bears were shopping Bennett around the league as trade bait. General Manager Phil Emery inquired strenuously about where those reports may have come from, insisting the Bears never confirmed them, but I never heard him actually deny them either.

Finally, Friday morning, we learned that Bennett has agreed to take a nearly 50 percent pay cut this season to stay a Chicago Bear.

Again, the good news for Bennett, the Bears and their fans, circumstances dictated the Bears still needed Bennett and everybody sat down and made it possible.

Is he still the No. 3 wideout? Here’s what Trestman had to say on the subject.

“He’s an experienced player, No. 1. He’s a very good route runner, he knows the offense and he can play multiple positions. He had a very good camp, particularly the last few days before he got hurt. He picked it up quickly since he’s been back.”

At this stage of their careers, neither Wilson nor Anderson are experienced. They’re not the route–runners Bennett is and aren’t as comfortable at multiple positions. So you tell me who the No. 3 receiver needs to be?

The Bears have big plans for Wilson and high hopes for Anderson but more than anything right now this team needs some success on offense and knows what a jump start a win over the Bengals in the opener will give them. Plus, Jay Cutler clearly likes throwing to Bennett, particularly on third down.

If Bennett is anywhere near 100 percent, at least until Wilson and Anderson get a few notches in their belts, expect No. 80 to be No. three for the Bears.

• Hub Arkush covers the Bears for Shaw Media and HubArkush.com. Write to him at harkush@shawmedia.com.

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