NEWS AND NOTES
At first glance, Bennett's rookie season looks like a bust. At second glance, too.
The third-round pick from Vanderbilt didn't catch a pass for the Bears last season and barely got on the field for a team that had a serious shortage of talent at wide receiver.
But Bennett will get plenty of opportunities this season to prove that the Bears didn't waste a draft pick on him. In just three years, the 6-foot, 203-pound Bennett established the all-time career reception record in the Southeastern Conference with 236 catches, but he admits he was slow to grasp the nuances of the Bears' playbook.
"I had a problem learning the plays at the beginning," Bennett said. "I struggled with it a bit, just like I struggled with it my first year in college. But as of now, I feel real comfortable with the playbook. I could just about play any position on the field. I feel like I've got the playbook down, and I'm ready to go."
While Bennett's improvement last year didn't manifest itself on game days, his command of the playbook and confidence in his route running were evident in practices later in the season.
"I feel like I've progressed a lot since last year when I first came in," he said. "This was a big opportunity to get in there and showcase what I can do, and hopefully I showed the coaches what I can do." …
Once again, the Bears will receive plenty of prime-time exposure. In the 2009 schedule released Tuesday evening, the Bears will play five nationally televised night games – starting with the season opener, a Sunday night showdown in Green Bay against the Packers on Sept. 13. The home opener is the following Sunday, Sept. 20, at 3:15 p.m. against the Steelers.
Last season the Bears played five prime-time games, three on Sunday night, two of which were victories; and one each on Thursday night and Monday night, both of which were overtime victories. They have an identical slate this season with a Thursday night game on the NFL Network against the 49ers at San Francisco on Nov. 12 and a home game Monday night against the Vikings on Dec. 28. The other two Sunday night games are at home against the Eagles on Nov. 22 and Oct. 18 at Atlanta against the Falcons.
At least on paper, the Bears seem to have an advantageous schedule for 2009, with eight games against teams that had double-digit defeats last season – including home and away dates with NFC North rivals Green Bay (6-10) and Detroit (0-16).
The Bears host the Rams (2-14 last year) and the Browns (4-12), and they face the Seahawks (4-12) and Bengals (4-11-1) on the road.
Five of those games are against teams with new head coaches. In Detroit, former Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz replaced Marinelli, who was hired by the Bears as their assistant head coach/defensive line coach. In Cleveland, fired Jets coach Eric Mangini replaced Romeo Crennel. In St. Louis, former Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo succeeded Jim Haslett. And in Seattle, Jim Mora was promoted from assistant head coach/secondary after Mike Holmgren retired. …
After 12 years in St. Louis with the Rams, Pace signed with the Bears to finish out his Hall of Fame career.
Aside from protecting Cutler's blind side, Pace could do the Bears another favor by recruiting long-time Rams teammate Torry Holt to Chicago. Holt, like Pace, was released by the Rams to free up salary cap space. But he still has plenty of good football left and he's exactly the type of productive, veteran wide receiver that the Bears need to increase Cutler's effectiveness.
"I spoke with Torry," Pace said on a recent visit to Halas Hall. "It's funny. He was in my house a few days before I came here. I think he's just out searching. I'm probably recruiting him here to Chicago, and hopefully it works out."
Holt will be 33 in June, but he still caught 64 passes for 796 yards last season – both of which would have been tops on the Bears. In the eight previous seasons, Holt never had fewer than 1,188 receiving yards, and he has more career TD receptions (74) than any Bears wide receiver has receptions. …
The Bears' 2009 opponents had a combined record of 105-149-2 last season. Using last year's records as a guideline, the Bears have the NFL's easiest schedule, as their 2009 opponents compiled a 41.4 winning percentage last season. By comparison, the Dolphins, who have the most difficult schedule, face teams that compiled a 59.4 winning percentage last season.
The Vikings and Packers have the second and third easiest schedules this season, facing opponents who had winning percentages of 42.0 and 42.8, respectively, last season.
Agree? Disagree? Discuss these topics on our message boards RIGHT HERE.
Bear Report: The only publication exclusively dedicated to your Chicago Bears