Bears’ Johnny Knox delivers correct response after demotion
SEAN JENSEN ON THE BEARS August 20, 2011 12:36AM
The Bears want to see more consistency from wide receiver Johnny Knox. | AP
Updated: November 16, 2011 1:26AM
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — Bears receiver Johnny Knox assumed an all-too-familiar position when Roy Williams replaced him in the starting lineup on the initial depth chart.
“I’ve been in this situation before,” Knox told the Sun-Times last week. “But I’ve been turning doubters into believers my whole life.
“So it’s just time to make people believe.”
Since starring at Channelview High School in Houston, Knox has taken the road less traveled, starting at Tyler Junior College before transferring to Division II Abilene Christian University. Despite setting the school record for touchdowns in only two seasons, Knox was drafted by the Bears in the fifth round of the 2009 draft.
Knox earned a Pro Bowl spot as a kickoff returner as a rookie, and he had 960 receiving yards last season — the most for a Bear since Marty Booker had 1,189 in 2002.
So after all the hubbub, Knox responded by returning a kickoff 70 yards and hauling in an 11-yard catch on the only touchdown drive of the 10-3 victory last Saturday over the Buffalo Bills.
“I’m going to take the same approach as last year,’’ Knox said. ‘‘When my number is called, I’m just going to make plays. That’s all it is: making plays.
“In this offense, it doesn’t matter about being No. 1, No. 2 or No. 3. If you come out and perform, you will be a big part of this offense, and that’s all I’m trying to be.”
Offensive coordinator Mike Martz and receivers coach Darryl Drake said early in training camp that Knox needed to make improvements and become more consistent.
Last season, for instance, Knox was the intended target on a league-high 11 interceptions.
But Knox didn’t whine or complain, instead stating his case on the practice field and in the game.
“It makes me feel good,” coach Lovie Smith said of Knox’s attitude. “If you’re a competitor, and you say you’re better than someone else, eventually if you are, it’s going to come out.
“As coaches, we’re going on production and whether a guy has mentals and when he has an opportunity, he performs.”
Added Drake: “It was important for him to do that, and it’s good that he did that.
“But the bad thing is, now I expect that every week.”
Smith also was impressed by Knox returning two punts, one of them for 13 yards.
“He had never returned a punt,” Smith said.
Knox said he’s not comfortable returning punts yet, and Devin Hester and Earl Bennett are ahead of him in that role. He said he’s excited to return as the team’s primary kickoff returner.
Last season, he was the top choice for that duty, but, without as much depth at the position, the Bears needed Knox to focus on being a receiver. And, ultimately, he played in 88 percent of the offensive snaps, the most of any skill player.
Special-teams coach Dave Toub couldn’t be more thrilled to have Knox back as his primary kickoff returner.
“He’s very dynamic back there,” Toub said.
“He’s obviously got that straight-ahead speed, but he’s also got great vision, and the fact that he got stronger this offseason is only going to make him better.”
While he’s mostly running with the second-string offense, Knox had a strong week of practice, making several impressive catches, including a couple of bombs. He said he’s more comfortable with the offense entering his second season under Martz.
“This will be the first year going into the same offense, so it’s not about learning,” he said. “I can just go out there and play mistake-free and use my talent.”
During the last public practice of training camp Friday, Knox showcased his speed, getting at least three steps on a defensive back. Backup quarterback Caleb Hanie delivered a well-placed pass, but Knox dropped the ball along the left sideline.
He picked the ball up and whipped it toward the middle of the field.
Asked if he was still upset after practice, Knox said, “At the moment [I was], but not anymore. It’s over with. I got to bounce back, and I got to be more consistent.”
That’s where Drake comes in.
“He has to work to get better because the sky is the limit for him,” Drake said. “My job is to continue to push him. Once he feels he’s arrived, he’s got no chance.
“So he’s got to continue to work to get better and better.”