Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli points something out during practice at the Oval cricket ground. | Tom Hevezi~AP
LONDON — Earl Bennett isn’t a No. 1 wide receiver. He isn’t Greg Jennings. And, technically, he’s not even a full-time starter. But he does one thing for the Bears that is undeniable — he makes Jay Cutler better.
With that in mind, the timing might be right for Bennett to return after missing three games with a chest bruise when the Bears face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday at Wembley Stadium. It’s in tough spots like this one — playing a game in a foreign country and an unfamiliar environment — that Cutler needs someone he can count on.
Bennett was listed as probable. He’s ‘‘a lot closer’’ to being ready to play, coach Lovie Smith said Friday before practice at the Oval, a renowned cricket stadium in South London’s Kennington neighborhood. ‘‘He’s making a lot of improvement,’’ Smith said. ‘‘He’s close, I’ll tell you that.’’
Cutler could use him. Almost to a fault, Bennett has been a security blanket for his former teammate at Vanderbilt. He figures prominently in most of Cutler’s biggest games. In the four games Bennett has caught a touchdown pass, Cutler’s average passer rating is 112.1 — and the Bears are 4-0.
Cutler was good against the Lions at Ford Field in 2010 (a 24-20 victory) and this season (a 24-13 loss). The difference? Bennett had seven receptions for 104 yards in the victory last year — all seven catches for first downs, including four on third down. Bennett didn’t play in this year’s loss.
Just having Bennett on the field seems to make a difference. After Bennett was injured in Week 2 at New Orleans, Cutler completed 50 percent of his passes in three games until he started to develop a connection with rookie Dane Sanzenbacher.
‘‘He’s just a dependable guy who does a great job in the slot,’’ Smith said. ‘‘He’s what the offense has missed, another good player you can count on. That’s one thing I can say about Earl since he’s been here. He’s not an up-and-down player. He’s consistent in just about any role we’ve put him in.’’
Hester ready to go
Wide receiver/kick returner Devin Hester, who left last week’s game against the Vikings with an injury, said he will play Sunday.
‘‘Devin is ready to go,’’ Smith said. ‘‘It should be a treat for some of the fans here who have never seen him play — the greatest kick returner in the history of the game.’’
Hester, Bennett, tight end Kellen Davis (elbow), starting safety Major Wright (hip) and rookie safety Anthony Walters (knee) are listed as probable. Offensive tackle Gabe Carimi (partially dislocated kneecap) and defensive tackle Matt Toeaina (sprained knee) are out.
Buccaneers leading rusher LeGarrette Blount (knee) is listed as doubtful and not expected to play. Earnest Graham will replace him. Starting center Jeff Faine (biceps injury) also is out.