"I think it's fairly obvious how we feel about Johnny," coach Lovie Smith said. "Johnny is a big part of what we're going to do. You guys are making a story out of that. That's no story. We have a starting rotation. We have to put out a depth chart. We brought Roy Williams in here; Roy's a good football player."
The key word is "good."
Williams is coming off three undistinguished seasons with the Cowboys. Knox, who returned a kickoff 70 yards Saturday night in the preseason opener, led the Bears in receiving yardage last season with 960 -- 399 more than the next-best total on the club.
"All guys will get reps and prove where they belong, whether they're going to dress on game day, whether they're going to be in the starting lineup," Smith said. "It's that way for Johnny and everyone else. You have to start off somewhere. It's no more than that. We're a little early to start running somebody out of town or putting someone up top or anything like that. We're not there yet. This is just a part of the evaluation process."
The Bears are the ones who made it a story by moving a newcomer with a history of underachievement ahead of their leading receiver. Williams hasn't put up numbers better than Knox' 2010 season since 2006. Knox also added a 13-yard punt return and had an 11-yard reception Saturday night in the Bears' 10-3 victory.
Knox has a big fan in Devin Hester, who was not used as a returner in the preseason opener and has relinquished his role as kickoff returner while focusing on returning punts and continuing his development as a wide receiver. Hester knows the kickoff-return unit is in good hands with Knox, who also handled punts in the first preseason game.
"It was a great return," Hester said of Knox's 70-yard return. "We know Johnny is a great returner. He has showed us that since Day One, when he stepped foot in this organization. He is capable of taking it the house anytime."
While Williams and Hester are listed as the starters, with Bennett and Knox the backups on the depth chart, there is reason to believe all four will have the opportunity to be the go-to guy in any particular game.
The Bears insist they do not game plan to get the ball to any specific receiver and that the ball should be thrown to the open man. There is also the belief that this group is as deep as it has been since Lovie Smith took over in 2004.
The defensive line is also an area in which the Bears take a lot of pride, and they believe that group also has quality depth, with an intriguing mix of experienced veterans and promising youngsters.
Even with starting nose tackle Anthony Adams (calf) unavailable in the preseason opener, defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli has what could be the deepest position on the team at D-line.
But defensive tackle Henry Melton, a 2009 fourth-round pick, stood out in the early going Saturday night, flashing quickness and the ability to disrupt from his 3-technique spot. Matt Toeaina, a seldom-used backup in his first three seasons with the Bears, made significant strides last season and is playing well enough in camp to be listed as the co-starter at nose tackle and 3-technique tackle.
Toeaina, a seldom-used backup in his first three seasons with the Bears, made significant strides last season and is playing well enough in camp to be listed as the co-starter at nose tackle and 3-technique tackle.
"He flies under your radar; not ours," Marinelli said when asked about Toeaina's low profile. "He is really a good football player. He just comes to work. He's improved from last year. He has daily improvement. He's improved as a pass rusher. He's a load in the run game as it is. He's smart; he can play both positions. He can play the cocked (offset) nose and the under tackle (3 technique)."
Amobi Okoye, who played behind Melton and is expected to be in an integral piece of the D-line rotation, had three solo tackles, including a sack for a 9-yard loss Saturday night.
--Nick Roach is the Bears' "other" linebacker.
He's the starter who hasn't been to a Pro Bowl, while Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs have been to 13 between them. This is the ninth year together for Briggs and Urlacher. But Roach has been around the block a time or two as well. He's started 30 games, 27 on the strong side and three in the middle, but he still considers Urlacher and Briggs his mentors.
"Anything you see them do on the field, you try to model yourself after that and you'll be all right," Roach said. "The biggest thing they do is just lead by example."
Even though most of his starts in the past have come when players like Pisa Tinoisamoa, Urlacher and Hunter Hillenmeyer were injured, Roach was referred to as a starter by coach Lovie Smith at the start of camp. The way Roach sees it, that makes him a starter, and the depth chart says so, too.
"You have to go off what the coaches say," Roach said. "So whatever your role is, that's how you have to go at it and work. That's what I'm trying to do."
It adds to Roach's value that he's able to play all three linebacker positions.
"If you've been a backup in our system - because we only keep six active linebackers - pretty much everybody has to know at least more than one position, so if you're around for a couple of years, you catch on. Injuries are going to happen, so guys get shuffled around quite a bit."
Having that Northwestern education should make it easy for Roach to learn multiple positions.
He laughed and said: "Oh right, obviously. Art majors are naturally intellectually advanced."
--The Bears already had a practice cut short by heavy rain and lightning on Monday, and last Friday they had an entire practice canceled when the new sod at Soldier Field was deemed dangerous.
So Wednesday night, when the lights went out on all the practice fields at Olivet Nazarene University at 8:10, it seemed somewhat fitting. After a delay of about 30 minutes, practice was moved a few blocks, over to Bradley-Bourbonnais High School, which coincidentally has new FieldTurf, the artificial surface that a majority of Bears players favor.
"It's been a weird series of events here," quarterback Jay Cutler said. "There's nothing we can really do about it, we just have to work through it and try to get our work in. Who knows what's going to happen tomorrow now."
Players were bused over and practice resumed about 9:15, about the same time power was restored to the part of campus that was affected, and it finished by 10:15.
"Every once in a while things like this happen," coach Lovie Smith said. "That's not all bad. In training camp you want to put the guys in different situations. We're going to London, and we'll have to get out of the routine (for that). We've got a normal size field here, and we were able to get in the same work we would have got in over there. We got better tonight. That's what we wanted to do."
Asked how he liked the playing surface, Cutler laughed and said, "Nice. I think it's something we could get used to."
--Mike Martz was at the Hall of Fame ceremonies in Canton, the guest of inductee Marshall Faulk, who put up some extraordinary rushing and receiving numbers under Martz when both were with the St. Louis Rams.
Martz believes that Matt Forte has some of the skills that made Faulk a Hall of Famer, but that he should not yet be compared to Faulk.
"I think Matt has terrific receiving skills," Martz said. "Marshall could immediately go outside and line up (as a wide receiver). Matt can do those things. He's a tall guy who has that exceptional speed and the quick change of direction, so there are some things we can do -- we did them last year, put him outside for instance the Dallas Cowboy game. We'll continue to do things like that with Matt.
"And he's really terrific inside. He has a great jump cut, he's still learning the run reads, and he's refining his skills, but he's got terrific skills and I think he could be absolutely exceptional."
Forte tied for the team lead last season with 51 receptions (547 yards) and also rushed for 1,069 yards, averaging a career-best 4.5 yards per carry. But he's not in the same league as Faulk.
"I don't know if anyone is on Marshall's level," Martz said. "That's a whole different stratosphere."
--Wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher, the undrafted rookie from Ohio State, has made his presence known, earning additional snaps, some with the first team.
In almost every practice, the 5-foot-11, 180-pounder has made an impact.
"If you're a young player, you need to come in and make some plays," coach Lovie Smith said. "He's done that. All of our receivers have had their moments. I'm anxious to see them in a game situation."
-- DE Corey Wootton is looking forward to increased playing time this season after seeing action in just six games as a rookie last season. Coaches believe he can be an effective pass rusher filling in behind starting defensive ends Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije.
"The biggest thing is focusing on your technique and getting after the passer," Wootton said. "That's what coach (Rod) Marinelli really loves. We're 'rushmen' that's what he calls us, so that's what I'm looking to do."
--The new sod at Soldier Field appears in much better shape than eight days earlier when it was deemed unsafe for a scheduled practice that was canceled because of unsafe conditions.
"The field wasn't bad," wide receiver Roy Williams said. "I'm looking forward to November, December to see how it really is. But, (Saturday) it wasn't bad."
--Training camp with the Dallas Cowboys is a circus, whether they're featured on HBO's Hard Knocks or not. So wide receiver Sam Hurd, who spent his first five seasons with the Cowboys, welcomes the tranquility of Olivet Nazarene University.
"It's very peaceful," the Northern Illinois University product said. "It's back to college ways, and I love the grind. I grew up under Joe Novak at college and then coming straight out of college to the NFL to (Bill) Parcells (in Dallas)."
Hurd was so at ease, he nearly forgot what sport he was playing.
"It's straight grind, put your helmet on, go out there hit the hardwood ... no, not hardwood, that's basketball ... go hit the field, come back, get in the books, go right back out there. No TV, no nothing, just go out here play and study."
QUOTE TO NOTE
"He's a tough runner. I think we brought him in just for that reason." --Bears QB Jay Cutler on new RB Marion Barber
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