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Earl Bennett's consistency might make him Bears' best receiver

Earl Bennett  runs for touchdown after receptisecond half NFC Championship Soldier Field Sunday Jan. 23 2011 Chicago. | John

Earl Bennett runs for a touchdown after a reception in the second half of the NFC Championship at Soldier Field, Sunday, Jan. 23, 2011, in Chicago. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

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Who is the Bears best receiver?

an earl among receivers

A look at the Bears’ top three receivers in 2010, including the
postseason, according to Pro Football Focus:

Targets/ Percent

Player Snaps catches catches Yards YAC TDs INT Drops

Earl Bennett 589 74/50 67.6 619 230 4 2 0

Devin Hester 771 79/42 53.2 486 241 4 5 6

Johnny Knox 1,020 108/57 52.8 1,068 271 5 13 6

Updated: May 9, 2012 9:45AM

Bears receiver Earl Bennett doesn’t sell jerseys like Devin Hester, doesn’t run like Johnny Knox and doesn’t attract attention like Roy Williams.

But ask about him around Halas Hall, and you often hear the same refrain: ‘‘He’s a football player.’’

That’s exactly what receivers coach Darryl Drake and quarterbacks Jay Cutler and Caleb Hanie said when asked about Bennett.

Drake supported that comment by noting Bennett can play any receiver spot, as well as tight end, and is a key contributor on special teams.

‘‘If there’s a definition of a football player, it’s Earl Bennett,’’ Drake said. ‘‘He’s going to do everything you ask him to do, and he’s not afraid of the dirty work.’’

Cutler talked about Bennett’s reliability and versatility.

‘‘No matter what situation we put him in, what down and distance .  .  . he’s going to make a play for us,’’ Cutler said.

‘‘He’s got the ‘it’ factor,’’ Hanie said.

Just don’t expect Bennett to say much about himself.

Receivers often have among the biggest egos on a football team, especially if they feel overlooked or underappreciated. Hester, Knox, Williams and even undrafted rookie Dane Sanzenbacher seemed to get more attention than Bennett this preseason, but he genuinely doesn’t seem to care.

‘‘That’s fine with me, man,’’ Bennett said after catching six passes for 89 yards in the Bears’ 14-13 preseason loss Saturday to the Tennessee Titans. ‘‘My thing is to do my job and go home to my wife. That’s it.’’

By numerous accounts, Bennett is among the best slot receivers in the league. According to Pro Football Focus, Bennett ranked sixth among slot receivers last season with an average of 13.5 yards per catch. In addition, among all receivers, Bennett ranked second in the NFL with zero drops last season. (The Cincinnati Bengals’ Jordan Shipley was technically first because he had two more catches.)

Bennett hauled in a team-high 67.6 percent of the passes intended for him last season — markedly higher than Hester and Knox, who were both just higher than 50 percent — and he finished second on the Bears with 561 receiving yards and third with 46 catches despite playing significantly fewer snaps than both of the other receivers.

‘‘He’s a consistent receiver who’s always moving the chains,’’ Hester said of Bennett. ‘‘He’s been one of those guys who in prime-time situations makes first downs. He always does what he needs to do.’’

Hester and Knox agreed on one point: Bennett has the toughest job among Bears receivers. In the Bears’ offense, Hester is the Z (flanker), Williams or Knox is the X (split end) and Bennett is the F (slot, more commonly known as the Y).

‘‘Us receivers on the outside don’t really have to pick up or worry about the blitzes,’’ Hester said. ‘‘[Bennett] has to be aware of a lot of hots and sights.’’

In addition to having a deep understanding of the offense and being on the same page as Cutler, Bennett also does a lot of shifting and motioning.

‘‘There’s a multiplicity of things you have to do at that position,’’ Drake said, rattling off a list of things. ‘‘He has to play all those different spots and be lined up right every time.’’

And there’s something equally important.

‘‘Quarterbacks trust him because he’s going to be where he needs to be,’’ Drake said.

On top of that, Bennett’s also tough and fearless.

‘‘Earl hasn’t changed one iota since his freshman year at [Vanderbilt],’’ said Cutler, who played with him there. ‘‘I just feel comfortable with him out there. He does what he is supposed to do.

‘‘In a couple of words, he is just a football player, and we need more of those in the locker room.’’

But Bennett doesn’t mind others getting the spotlight.

‘‘I love being under the radar, man,’’ he said. ‘‘I love it.’’

That’s one of Bennett’s endearing qualities, Drake said.

‘‘That’s Earl,’’ he said. ‘‘That notoriety and the accolades that go along with the game? That’s not his thing.

‘‘He’s Chicago. I mean, he really is. He epitomizes the workforce, the guy who takes that iron lunchbox to work, and he’s got his cheese sandwich in there and goes to work every day. That’s what makes him who he is.’’

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