LAKE FOREST – In August, Bears wide receiver Johnny Knox had to settle for second-team practice repetitions while newly signed veteran Roy Williams practiced with the first team.
The demotion bothered Knox at the time.
Now, those days with the second team are paying dividends.
Caleb Hanie was the Bears’ second-team quarterback during training camp, and he and Knox cultivated the type of close working relationship that comes with repetition. The pair connected during an endless parade of one-on-one and seven-on-seven passing drills.
“I was running with the ‘2s’ a little bit, so we built that chemistry there,” Knox said.
Fast-forward almost four months to Week 11 when the Bears visited the Oakland Raiders.
A broken right thumb sidelined No. 1 quarterback Jay Cutler and gave Hanie an opportunity to make his first NFL start. Good practices and mostly steady play by Knox, combined with more than a few missed receptions by Williams, had led to a timeshare at wide receiver.
Suddenly, the old second team was starting Sunday.
The result: Knox caught four passes for a career-high 145 yards. That included a 29-yard touchdown in the second quarter and an 81-yard reception in the fourth quarter.
With Cutler expected to miss most (if not all) of the rest of the regular season, Hanie and Knox could continue to connect. The Bears (7-4) will host the Kansas City Chiefs (4-7) on Sunday and have games remaining against Denver, Seattle, Green Bay and Minnesota.
“I have a good relationship with Johnny,” said Hanie, a fourth-year veteran.
“He’s a good receiver. He came in the year after me, but we’ve been here for three years together, so I have a great relationship with him and trust him.
“I trust all the guys, though. It’s kind of a little bit of both. I trust him, but that’s the way the plays developed. I’ve just got to play each play, the coverage they give me, [and], ‘Boom, there’s my read over here. That’s where I’m going with the football.’
“It’s not playing any favorites or anything like that.”
Bears wide receivers coach Darryl Drake said the extra repetitions helped Knox to develop a rhythm with Hanie, but he also said Knox could excel with any quarterback.
“They always help,” Drake said. “But Johnny’s a football player. I’ve always said it.
“We just have to get him involved, throw him the ball, and let him do what he does. He’s been able to show the ability that we all knew he had.
“You guys knew it, too. That’s why we had so much controversy [with Williams and Knox on the depth chart]. But he just needs to continue to work, especially during this stretch run.”
Extra strength and added rest could help Knox with that task.
Knox arrived to training camp about 12 pounds heavier than he was in his first two seasons. He trained with fellow wide receiver Devin Hester during the offseason to add muscle.
Knox said the extra conditioning has helped him to stay healthy.
“It helps a lot because I’ve been blessed not to have any injuries,” Knox said. “I’m pain free.”
And he’s producing, particularly with Hanie under center.
“He’s playing well,” Drake said. “We’ve just got to keep him playing that way.”
Drake paused for a second before adding a final thought.
“Keep throwing it to him.”