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Bears’ Earl Bennett eager to return after injury layoff

Earl Bennett who hasn’t played since Week 2 is looking forward getting back field against Eagles.  |  AP

Earl Bennett, who hasn’t played since Week 2, is looking forward to getting back on the field against the Eagles. | AP

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Updated: January 23, 2012 2:54AM

When Earl Bennett suffered a bruised chest when he was drilled by the New Orleans Saints’ Roman
Harper in Week 2, it left quarterback Jay Cutler with only two
receivers he had last season: Johnny Knox and Devin Hester.

Since then, the Bears’ passing game has suffered. But it has
improved lately because Cutler has developed a rapport with rookie Dane Sanzenbacher and veteran Roy Williams. Sanzenbacher has three touchdown catches, and Williams has seven receptions for 109 yards and a touchdown in the last two games — more catches than he had in his first four games combined.

‘‘We’re getting there,’’ Cutler said of his developing chemistry with Williams. ‘‘It doesn’t happen
[in] one or two games; it takes some time. It takes practices and a lot of work and repetition and just getting a feel for what he’s going to do on the field and where I want the ball. It’s happening slowly but surely.’’

While Cutler takes the slow-but-sure route with Williams, the Bears’ offense figures to get an
instant boost when Bennett returns against the Philadelphia Eagles on ‘‘Monday Night Football’’ on Nov. 7 in Philadelphia.

Cutler’s comfort zone with his former Vanderbilt teammate is well-known and indisputable. In almost any tight spot, Bennett is the first receiver Cutler looks to. Of Bennett’s 46 receptions last season, 19 of them came on third down (41.3 percent). Most receivers with that high a percentage of third-down catches play tight end.

Cutler isn’t pining for Bennett’s return — it’s not like he can’t survive without him — but he still is looking forward to his favorite
receiver being active again.

‘‘He’s very stable,’’ Cutler said after practice Wednesday at Halas Hall. ‘‘He’s gonna be in the right spot. He’s gonna make plays after the catch. He’s an every-down
receiver that I would love to see back on the field.’’

Bennett could have played Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He was listed as probable on the injury report, but the Bears played it cautiously and kept him inactive.

‘‘I practiced the whole week,’’ Bennett said. ‘‘Obviously, the coaches thought I wasn’t ready to go. That’s why I didn’t play.’’

Bennett doesn’t make waves, but he’s getting a little itchy to play after missing four games with the nagging chest bruise. He said he wanted to go back into the game after he was injured against the Saints but was told by coaches and the medical staff that he couldn’t.

‘‘I can’t really speak on the
extent of the injury,’’ Bennett said. ‘‘I’m just excited to be back. Having to sit on the sideline .  .  . was really hard on me. It’s been very disappointing, but I’ve just got to stay focused and keep the faith.’’

Despite the time he has needed to recuperate from the injury, Bennett said he can ‘‘hit the ground running, full speed’’ when he gets back on the field.

‘‘Let’s get this thing going,’’ he said. ‘‘I want [to help] the team any way, whether it’s first, second, third or fourth down. I really look forward to getting back out there. I’ve been missing it. And I’m excited about getting back.’’

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