All the early indications point to Brandon Lloyd as the Bears' go-to receiver, even if the team doesn't want to admit it yet and prefers to give the illusion of a balanced passing attack.
But Lloyd's 216 receiving yards are more than twice that of all the Bears' other wide receivers combined, and his 16.6-yard average per catch is four yards better than any teammate. Lloyd has demonstrated an ability to stretch the field vertically, not so much because of blazing speed but because of his rare leaping ability and proficiency at adjusting to deep passes that are sometimes off course.
That could be a huge asset Sunday night at Soldier Field against an Eagles defense that is the NFL's best against the run and in sack percentage. In four previous games against the Eagles as a member of the 49ers and Redskins, Lloyd caught a modest eight passes – but three of them were for more than 30 yards.
"He's very instinctive player," offensive coordinator Ron Turner said. "He does adjust to the deep ball extremely well, and he always has."
When Turner was the head coach at Illinois he successfully recruited Lloyd to Champaign, where his 2,583 receiving yards and 21 touchdowns were the second most in school history.
"I remember the first day I saw him as a freshman in college," Turner said. "He just naturally can change speeds and get his body in the right position to adjust to the deep ball."
Lloyd was a 7-foot high jumper in high school and excels at plucking the ball at its highest point, making it difficult for more gravity-challenged defenders.
"The way I always play is, I don't want the ball to ever come down on me," Lloyd said. "I always feel the percentages are higher of me making the play by jumping up and catching it with my hands instead of letting it fall into my body. That's how I approach it, so I just kind of jump up there and get it no matter where it is."
That enables him to play a lot bigger than your run-of-the-mill 6-0, 194-pound receiver.
"Even when I was in college, people were like, 'Whoa, I thought you were like 6-6 or something,'" Lloyd said. "People have always said that to me."
Lloyd displayed all those qualities in his second and third seasons in San Francisco, catching a total of 91 passes for 1,298 yards and 11 touchdowns. But his career hit the skids in two seasons with the Redskins, culminating in a two-catch 2007 when he missed the second half of the season with a shoulder injury and had well-documented problems relating to teammates and coaches.
WR Brandon Lloyd
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
"I heard some of the stories," Turner said. "I didn't hear all of them. I'm sure everyone here heard some stories about him because they were all out there.”
"But I knew him,” Turner continued. “I'd known him since he was 17 years old, and I knew his family. I knew he came from a good family. I knew he was a good kid, and I knew he had great talent. We all felt we had nothing to lose. If he comes in here and we can take advantage of that ability and get that talent going and keep him focused on the right things, which is preparing for the games, that he could be a great player. So far he's doing a great job of that, and hopefully we can keep him focused."
Turner didn't have to beg head coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jerry Angelo to give Lloyd a chance, but he did speak on his behalf.
"I don't know if I had to sell them," Turner said. "I obviously talked about him as a person. The film spoke for itself as far as his ability, but I did talk to them about him as a person and I believed in him. I thought he'd come in here and do what we asked him to do and do it the right way, and if he didn't, then he knew he wouldn't be here."
Lloyd said in training camp he knew he might be running out of chances, but he said he didn't doubt his ability to produce if given the chance.
"I never felt once that I couldn't help a team win ballgames and be a productive member of a team," he said. "That's all I want to do. It's all about the football to me. I said that when I got here, and that's the way I continue to approach it."
So far, it's working.
News & Notes
First-round draft pick Chris Williams returned to the practice field, on a limited basis, for the first time since suffering a herniated disk in his back on the second day of training camp back in late July.
The offensive tackle participated in one-on-one drills involving some contact but did not do any 11-on-11 team work.
OT Chris Williams
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
"It's one step," Smith said. "It's not like he was out there going full speed in team and all of that. We're just working him back in. He still has a ways to go."
Williams says there is no timetable for his return to the playing field, but the Lions game at home on Nov. 2 is probably a best-case scenario. For now, the 6-6, 312-pound Williams is just glad to be taking small steps.
"It'll be fun," he said. "We'll see if I can actually still do this stuff, right? I'm just taking it a day at a time, waking up every morning and seeing how it feels."
Asked where he was at, Williams quipped, "Well, right now I'm at Halas Hall. No, I'm doing great. I'm happy with where I'm at." …
Defensive end Adewale Ogunleye, whose mugging by the Buccaneers prompted Charles Tillman to incur a pivotal 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty Sunday, doesn't blame his teammate for the overtime loss. Although Tampa Bay did take advantage of the flag to drive for the winning score.
"Even after the penalty, we should have held them," Ogunleye said. "We stopped them, but we messed up and we got a penalty. But there's 10 other guys that should have Peanut's back on that, including myself. We should have gotten off the field even after the penalty. That's not the reason we lost the game. That's the reason that drive continued on, but we still had another eight plays to stop them – and we didn't." …
Bears defensive linemen may have rationalized their inability to get to Bucs quarterback Brian Griese by claiming Tampa Bay used maximum-protection packages and Griese threw only quick three- and five-step drops, but Smith said the front four has to be held accountable.
"Everything starts up front with us," Smith said. "They did a good job blocking, but we haven't gone many games without a sack around here. We have a high standard, and you have to give them a lot of credit. But that many times throwing, whether it's three-step drop, one-step drop, we need to be able to get to the quarterback."
The last time the Bears' defense was held without a sack was Nov. 26, 2006, at Gillette Stadium in a 17-13 loss to the Patriots. …
Smith said there is some solace in knowing that his team is just a couple plays away from being 3-0 instead of the reality of 1-2.
"There is some benefit to that because we are close," Smith said. "If you were getting blown out each game, that's a little different. At times when we look at our football team, we're playing dominating ball. And I'm one to think that eventually we will be able to keep that going for four quarters, and a lot of these things we're talking about, we won't [be]." …
Smith said he regretted having to part ways with wide receiver Mark Bradley, an underachieving second-round draft pick in 2005.
"[You're] always disappointed when you have to cut ties with one of the players that you brought into the fold," Smith said. "I'm sorry it didn't work out for him here. But again, sometimes divorce is a good thing, and [we] wish him the best. Hopefully the next stop for him, the next team he's with, will work out a little bit better."
Quote to Note
"I think it's just a mentality. We're probably not being as aggressive as we should. We come out the gates in these games and we punch people in the mouth and all that good stuff, and then it seems like we're thinking about off days. Maybe that's the case.” – DE Adewale Ogunleye on why the Bears have let double-digit leads slip away in the second half the past two games.
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