LAKE FOREST – Last season, a glowing endorsement from Bears quarterback Jay Cutler helped journeyman wide receiver Devin Aromashodu make the team’s 53-man roster.
This season, Cutler is doing his best to secure a job for veteran wide receiver Rashied Davis.
“Great camp,” said Cutler, who fired passes to Davis and other receivers Wednesday at Halas Hall. “He’s had one of the best camps of anyone in the tight end and receiver area.”
Davis, 31, is happy to receive anything that Cutler tosses his direction – including praise. The six-year veteran has vaulted from the roster bubble to No. 4 on the depth chart at wide receiver.
An injury to Devin Hester, Johnny Knox or Devin Aromashodu could put Davis in the top three. That’s a long way for Davis, an ex-Arena Football League star with the San Jose Saber Cats.
“Thanks, Jay!” Davis shouted toward Cutler’s empty locker when he heard about the quarterback’s comments.
Cutler is not dishing compliments for the sake of kindness. If Davis is able to return to form as a key supplemental receiver, it could mean good things for Cutler and the Bears’ passing game in a make-or-break season.
Davis finished fourth on the Bears with 303 receiving yards in 2006, which was his first full season as a wide receiver. He eclipsed that mark in 2008 with 445 receiving yards, but last year, he vanished in Ron Turner’s offense with five receptions for 35 yards.
Special-teams skills helped Davis stay in the NFL despite his up-and-down receiving record. His 12 special-teams tackles last season marked a career high, and he added nine kickoff returns for 114 yards as a backup for top returners Johnny Knox and Danieal Manning.
“I know what my job is on this team,” Davis said. “I know I’m here to play special teams, mostly, and contribute anywhere else.
“I’m hoping that I play a lot more on offense. I’ve been working my butt off to try to get a bigger role on offense, similar to what I had in 2006 when we went to the Super Bowl.
“Hopefully, I can, and we can get the same results – but win this time.”
For that to happen, Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz will have to work wonders.
Martz has leaned on undersized targets such as Az-Zahir Hakim, Shaun McDonald and Mike Furrey during previous coaching stints in St. Louis and Detroit. It’s possible that Davis (5-9, 187) could fill a similar role for the Bears.
“I feel this offense really fits him and his quickness and his ability to get off press [coverage] and make cuts,” Cutler said. “He’s a guy who contributes a lot on special teams, and if we can fit him in [by using] some different ways in the offense, he’s going to be a great player.”
Davis said he was learning like a rookie. He credited Martz for pushing his game forward.
“This new offense has taken a lot more studying,” Davis said. “It’s a good offense, a really good offense, but I’m learning a lot from Coach Martz about football in general.”
As Davis has climbed, third-year wide receiver Earl Bennett has fallen.
Bennett underwent knee surgery over the offseason and has been hampered by a hamstring injury this summer. He sat out practice again Wednesday and is expected to miss Saturday’s third preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals.
Cutler sympathized with Bennett, who finished second on the team last season with 717 receiving yards.
“I’d love to get him back and see him in the offense for the last preseason game,” Cutler said. “But we’ll have to see how it goes.”