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Stock falls for Bears' Johnny Knox

Bears wide receivers coach Darryl Drake said despite Johnny Knox’s improvement Roy Williams gives Bears much needed bigger target. |

Bears wide receivers coach Darryl Drake said despite Johnny Knox’s improvement, Roy Williams gives the Bears a much needed bigger target. | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: November 16, 2011 1:24AM

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — It turns out that, once the last flecks of spittle leave his lips, Darryl Drake can be a pretty calm guy.

The Bears’ wide receivers coach had spent a few moments Thursday morning ranting at reporters about a newspaper report that said Johnny Knox might pursue a trade if he weren’t a starter. Things were said, loudly, and fingers were pointed, directly.

“If you guys keep making this stuff up and bringing this stuff up, you’re going to deal with me, and it ain’t going to be real nice,’’ Drake said. “That ain’t going to be real positive or real nice.’’

Then he sped away in a golf cart, expeditiously.

But afterward, with his finger holstered, Drake spoke soberly about why Knox had lost his starting job to newcomer Roy Williams. He also addressed the comments of offensive coordinator Mike Martz, who the day before had said the Bears handed the starting job to Knox last season, without Knox actually having earned it.

It sure looked as if Martz was going out of his way to dump on Knox, who led the team with 960 receiving yards in 2010. And considering the fact that Williams hadn’t done much the past three seasons in Dallas, coronating him as a starter sure looked premature.

“To me, Johnny is still a starter, but you don’t bring a Roy Williams in here and just sit him on the bench,’’ Drake said. “What would be the use of bringing in a guy 6-foot-3, 6-foot-4 when everybody’s been saying, ‘When are you going to get that big target?’ Why bring a big target in here and sit him on the bench? Our quarterback needs a bigger target.’’

Drake: Job handed to Johnny

Knox disputed Martz’ contention that the job had been handed to him last season. Drake didn’t.

“Earl Bennett was hurt, and Johnny got the job,’’ he said. “He had not really played as much. Now, do I think Johnny Knox is a heck of a player and can be even better? Sure. Did Johnny Knox do some really good things last year? Yes. He also did some things that weren’t so good. I protected him. There were a lot of situations where I felt he could have done a better job. We all could, even me as a coach. Does that mean Johnny’s not going to be an integral part of what we try to do? Not at all. We’ve got to have Johnny Knox.

“What Roy Williams did coming here was give us more depth at the position. It gives us a different dimension. Do I expect Johnny Knox to have an even better year than he had last year? Yes, even with Roy Williams here. I really, truly do.’’

Williams forces Knox to improve

When he wasn’t answering his own questions, Drake talked about some of Knox’ weaknesses last season. He had trouble shedding defensive backs off the snap, but Drake is encouraged that Knox has added size and strength. Knox also didn’t watch enough film, and that showed up in mental mistakes.

“Roy coming in has really helped Johnny be more on his P’s and Q’s, to study the game harder,’’ Drake said. “He’s done well in practice. I’m proud of what he’s done when he’s been out there. The bottom line in this business and on this football team is that we’re going to play the guys who do things the right way consistently and give us the best chance to win.

“If it’s Johnny Knox, he’ll be out there. If it’s Roy Williams, he’ll be out there. There’s no political game going on right here. We’ve got to win. Who’s going to give us the best opportunity to win?’’

After practice, Knox said he wants to stay a Bear his whole career. That’s fine, but he has a right to be upset about his situation. Nobody is saying he’s a superstar, but fair is fair. He had a good 2010 and basically lost his starting job within about a week of camp. That has to be some kind of record.

“I know people look at it and say, ‘How did Roy just come in and do that?’ ’’ Drake said. “Well, he’s been a No. 1. He went into Dallas as a true No. 1. He’s got a great deal of ability. So does Johnny.’’

It also helps that Williams played for Martz in Detroit and for Drake at the University of Texas.

Drake said the Bears overused Knox in 2010, to the receiver’s detriment. As the season went on, he wore down. What the Bears are saying now is that there’s a chance both receivers will get 40 to 50 plays a game. That way, opposing defenses will be looking at a fresh player every play. We’ll see.

“We’re so much better now because of this competition,’’ Drake said. “Last year, Johnny didn’t have anybody to look around at. He had the job. He knew he could go out there and make a mistake, and there was nobody else to put in there. But now everybody has to be accountable. Roy Williams has to play well. If he doesn’t, Johnny Knox is in there. If Johnny doesn’t, Roy Williams is in there.’’

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