BOURBONNAIS – One training camp competition has nothing to do with a roster spot.
Bears wide receiver Johnny Knox wants to beat teammate Earl Bennett in the weight room.
“He said he can bench more than me,” Bennett said with a laugh before a recent practice at Olivet Nazarene University. “But he probably can’t. We’ll see one day.”
A year or two ago, Bennett would have crushed Knox in a bench press competition. But Knox (6-foot, 185 pounds) no longer is a stringbean after adding 10 to 12 pounds of muscle during the offseason.
During the 136-day NFL lockout, Knox worked out at EFT Sports Performance in Highland Park because he was not allowed to do so at Halas Hall. He joined teammate Devin Hester for an intense lifting and running program, and he paid careful attention to his nutrition.
Knox’s workouts lasted from 2½ to three hours a day, five days a week. Sometimes, he ventured out of the gym for a series of steep hill climbs near I-294 and Lake Cook Road.
Extra strength was necessary to improve as a football player, Knox said.
Knox struggled to win one-on-one battles with opposing cornerbacks last season. When he did win those battles, he said, he did not break enough tackles to turn short gains into long ones.
“That’s one of the reasons we got bigger,” Knox said. “We had to get stronger, from our legs to our upper body, to catch 10-yard routes and break them for touchdowns.”
Last season, Knox fell 40 yards shy of becoming the first Bears wide receiver to gain 1,000 receiving yards since Marty Booker in 2002. Knox entered Week 17 against Green Bay with 960 receiving yards, but he was held without a catch for the only time of the season.
In three of Knox’s final four games of the regular season in 2010, he had two catches or fewer. He had at least four receptions in six of his first 10 games but only once in his final six games.
Knox admitted that he felt beat up as last season dragged on.
“Yeah, because I didn’t do the things I was supposed to do,” Knox said. “[Now], I’m a lot more experienced and I know what I’m supposed to do to keep my body right throughout the season.”
It’s not only about the muscles, Knox said.
“[It’s] all around,” he said. “Things change throughout the season and throughout the year. I need to learn how to run routes better, how to catch the ball better, how to adjust and recover because those things change.”
The addition of Roy Williams should take some of the pressure off Knox to be the team’s go-to receiver. Another year in Mike Martz’s offense also should help Knox, who struggled along with his teammates a year ago to become comfortable with the complicated playbook.
Knox also played catch-up to learn ex-coordinator Ron Turner’s offense as a rookie in 2009.
“Going into this year, it will be my first time going into the same offense,” Knox said. “I know where I’m supposed to be and when I’m supposed to be there. That just brings a lot of confidence.”
Some bigger muscles don’t hurt, either.