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Marshall should upgrade Bears' receiver corps

The Sports Xchange
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The acquisition of Brandon Marshall doesn't solve all the Bears' receiving problems, but it gives quarterback Jay Cutler the No. 1 receiver he's lacked in his first three years in Chicago.

As long as Marshall doesn't do anything off the field to get himself suspended. Coach Lovie Smith says he's not worried about that.

"Every new member of our Chicago Bear team I've talked to about what's expected of them," Smith said. "Brandon, of course, was a part of that. He knew. Before guys come here, they do their research. He had a chance to talk to some of our other players, and they told him what it's like and what will be expected of him when he's here. He feels comfortable with that, and I feel comfortable with him along with the rest of the guys."

The excitement over the addition of Marshall is tempered by the uncertain future of Johnny Knox, which could leave the Bears lacking their best big-play receiver in 2011 and 2010 for at least part of the 2012 season.

Knox has averaged 19.1 yards per catch the past two seasons (88 catches, 1,687 yards), but there is no guarantee that he'll be back by the start of the season after having spinal fusion surgery following the wicked hit he took last December.

"I wish I could give you some more information," Smith said recently. "Johnny is working hard every day. He's making a lot of progress. From the time we saw him laying on the field to where he is right now, he's making the same type of progress throughout. Things should be OK for him."

But no one is prepared to say when that will be.

"As far as when he'll be back 100 percent and ready to go," Smith said, "I don't know that. We just want him to improve every day and that's what he's doing."

For now, Knox is not expected to participate in the Bears' June minicamp.

Two other wide receivers who have played key roles in the past are looking for bounce-back seasons.

Earl Bennett is the Bears' most reliable underneath receiver, but he had a disappointing 2011 season, partially because of an early-season chest injury that sidelined him for five games. He ended with just 24 catches for 381 yards, the second straight season those numbers have fallen off, although his 15.9 yards per catch were a career best. A healthy Bennett is a prime candidate for a bounce-back season.

Devin Hester's receptions and yards have also plummeted in each of the past two seasons, and his 26 catches for 369 yards last season were his worst numbers since his first NFL season as a wide receiver in 2007. It remains to be seen if less responsibility in the return game can get Hester's production back to where it was in 2009, when he caught 57 passes for 757 yards.

Copyright (C) 2012 The Sports Xchange. All Rights Reserved.

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