Bears receiver Bennett excels under the radar
BOURBONNAIS – Bears wide receiver Earl Bennett could grumble if he wanted.
Bennett could cross his arms and complain about how he is being overlooked with the additions of fellow receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. He could pout and point to his production every time TV cameras chase after Devin Hester or Johnny Knox.
Instead, Bennett quietly goes to work. He would rather catch passes than hold grudges.
“To see how he goes about it, I look up to him,” Bears nickelback D.J. Moore said.
Amid countless headlines about the Bears’ other receivers, Bennett is preparing for another strong season. Teammates insist that he is one of the most important members of a talented receiving corps, even if he might be one of the group’s least publicized players.
The lack of attention doesn’t bother Bennett. He is the opposite of a diva receiver despite his status as the SEC’s all-time leader in receptions (236) during three years at Vanderbilt.
“It’s about being a pro,” Bennett said. “The way you approach the game is very important in the league. The way I see it is that every day I come out here, I’ve got to fight and show the coaches what I’ve got. Because you never know when it’s going to be your last snap.”
Although Bennett favors eccentric fashion off of the field – he sometimes wears a neon yellow backpack to match the color of his shoes – his game favors substance over style. He has caught 124 passes for 1,659 yards and six touchdowns in the past three seasons while emerging as quarterback Jay Cutler’s most trusted target on important third-down plays.
Bears wide receivers coach Darryl Drake praised Bennett’s attention to detail.
“I think he’s underappreciated by a lot of people because he’s very, very consistent, and he does what everybody wants him to do,” Drake said. “But I don’t think he gets overlooked, nor will he get overlooked in this offense. He’s an integral part, a big part.
“He does all the subtle things, he does all the little things, he does all those things right. The quarterback has a great rapport with him and knows where he’s going to be. And that’s the thing about him that’s going to make the play.”
During the first week of training camp at Olivet Nazarene University, Moore has competed against Bennett and all of the Bears’ other receivers in seven-on-seven and full-team drills. He said Bennett (6-0, 206 pounds) posed challenges because of his speed and strength.
“I would say he runs the best routes out of the receivers. Best hands, I would say,” Moore said. “I mean, it’s a no-brainer, honestly, if you just come out and watch him.”
Yet Bennett would prefer to talk about team goals than his individual abilities. He has started 22 of 51 career games and could push for a full-time starting job opposite Marshall, but he would not complain if he returns to his familiar role as a complementary receiver.
“The ultimate goal is to get to the Super Bowl and win it,” Bennett said. “That’s it. That’s my No. 1 goal. Whatever I need to help us get there, I’m going to do it.”
It’s a goal that Bennett has yet to attain as he enters his fifth season in the fast-moving NFL. He tried watching Super Bowl XLVI in February but it bothered him too much.
“I watched part of it, but I had to leave, man,” Bennett said. “It’s frustrating and tough to watch it knowing that you could have been in that position.”
Bennett believes that the Bears are good enough to be in that position this season.
If that happens, and if Bennett is mostly overlooked as dozens of reporters flock to Marshall and Hester and Jeffery and others, he will harbor nothing but happiness.
“That’s fine, man,” Bennett said with a smile. “I’m good with that.”