Chicago Bears

Mullin: Best collection of Bears skill players?

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Mullin: Best collection of Bears skill players?

Monday, Sept. 12, 2011
Posted: 10:46 p.m.

By JohnMullin
CSNChicago.com BearsInsider Follow@CSNMoonMullin
Every Monday afternoon I have a good time talking Bears with the folks at SportsRadio 1450, WFMB-AM in Springfield (and the Bears have some serious fans downstate). The guys put a great question on the table in the aftermath of the Atlanta game:

Is this the best collection of Bears skill players in the last 25 years?

The quick-evaluation answer on the show: Yes.

With more time to think about it and look back in some detail: Yes.

These comparison things are generally tiresome and clich. Usually its comparing the defense to the 1985 or 1986 group; enough of that, please.

But since the guys downstate asked, lets think about it:

For all of the Jay Cutler debate, or whether Matt Forte is worth Chris JohnsonFrank Gorewhoever money, or whether the Bears have or even need a No. 1 receiver, looking at the skill players was more fun.

Sadly, the points of comparison are pretty scant. The 1988 group, basically. Maybe the 1995 core of Erik Kramer-Rashaan Salaam-Curtis Conway-Jeff Graham. Thats about it.

1988?

Right now, Cutler is a better passer and arguably as good a quarterback as the 1988 Jim McMahon; Neal Anderson and Forte are a wash and two of the best all-around backs in franchise history. Tight ends are bit players in both systems.

But the 2011 Bears wide-receiver group is significantly better than Dennis McKinnon (best season, 45 catches) group, even if none of Earl Bennett - Devin Hester - Johnny Knox - Roy Williams - Sam Hurd - Dane Sanzenbacher are remotely in McKinnons class as a blocker.

I didnt consider the Bears receivers trash last year and I definitely dont now. Whether theyre anywhere close to good enough for reaching a Super Bowl (they showed last year that they were), go ahead; have at it. But this corps is the deepest for the Bears of the past quarter-century.
1995?

The 1995 group is the only other one with a seat at the table. Cutler hasnt had a season yet thats quite at the level of Kramer and his 93.5 passer rating, but Cutler has topped 100 for passer rating in six of the last nine games, including Sundays 107.8. Forte is a better runner, a far better blocker and an exponentially more accomplished receiver than Salaam. Plus, he holds onto the football.

Conway and Graham were both 1,000-yard receivers and each was better than any of Bears wideout right now. Those are the only two from the 95 skills who would start for the 2011 Bears, unless you like Keith Jennings over Matt SpaethKellen Davis.

But would you take Michael Timpson as your No. 3, or Bennett? Knox? For this offense and this quarterback, no comparison. And does anybody not think the 2011 group has a collective arrow pointing up?

None of these comparisons mean a whole lot. But as clichd as it has been to denigrate particularly the Bears wide receivers, give it all a rest. Enjoy it. This group may not play more than 16 games (the 95ers didnt) but its as good as theres been here since Walter Paytons era.

They can see that all the way down in Springfield.

Passing thoughts

Atlantas Matt Ryan became the latest quarterback to perform below his norm against the Bears. Of the 18 quarterbacks facing the Bears last season (not including fill-in Drew Stanton in Detroit), only Tom Brady (Patriots), Mark Sanchez (Jets) and Matt Hasselbeck (Seahawks) twice managed to reach their season passer rating against the Chicago defense.

Ryan, a 91.0 passer in 2010, posted just a 76.5 rating against the Bears.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

WATCH: Deonte Thompson channels inner Devin Hester with 109-yard return in Bears preseason game

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AP

WATCH: Deonte Thompson channels inner Devin Hester with 109-yard return in Bears preseason game

It's been a while since Devin Hester electrified the city of Chicago with his touchdown returns, but we got flashbacks of that Saturday night.

Deonte Thompson took a page out of the book of arguably the best returner in NFL history by returning a 109-yard missed field goal to the house as the first half expired during the Bears' second preseason game in Arizona.

It gave the Bears a 17-7 lead, and even had John Fox going crazy on the sideline:

Deonte Thompson, you are ridiculous?

Five Bears who can improve their stock Saturday night against Arizona

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USA Today Sports Images

Five Bears who can improve their stock Saturday night against Arizona

1. QB Mike Glennon

The Bears’ first team offense as a whole could be included under this subhead, whether it’s the offensive line creating holes for a running back (Jordan Howard won't play with a minor corneal abrasion) or the receivers creating more separation to get open. But the onus is on Glennon to be better than he was Thursday night and prove that 0.0 quarterback rating was the product of a small sample size and not a sign of more serious issues. On the other side of things, a bad game from Glennon only would lead to further questions about his ability to succeed as the Bears’ starting quarterback. 

“I mean, (this game is) bigger than the first but not as big as the third,” Glennon said. “I don’t really know how else to say it. Everything gets more amplified Week 1 to 2, 2 to 3 and then ultimately the season opener. Obviously I want to go out and play well but I don’t want to make too big a deal and put too much pressure on a preseason game.” 

2. WR Kevin White

Cameron Meredith can do a lot to help Glennon’s case, but the Bears have a good idea of what they have in the third-year receiver who’s been one of the more steady performers during training camp. Kevin White is in a different position, having not been targeted at all against the Denver Broncos and still needing to prove plenty going into his third year in the NFL. White’s growth this year may be slow, but he needs to show some signs of that growth during preseason games to build up some confidence for Sept. 10. 

“Anytime you go through some injuries, there’s a whole mental game that plays a part of it,” fellow wide receiver Victor Cruz (more on him in a bit) said. “Just talking to him – I think he’s over it. He understands those things are behind him. His confidence is back in his body with the things that he can do. You’re starting to see that out there on the football field. He’s really hitting another gear, catching these balls, going deep down the field and putting pressure on these defensive backs.”

3. WR Victor Cruz

It was a little jarring to see Cruz, a Super Bowl-winning former Pro Bowler, playing until the final snap of Thursday’s game — even if that had something to do with the Bears not having Daniel Braverman available and losing Rueben Randle and Joshua Bellamy to injuries during the game. But Cruz hasn’t seemed to significantly push Kendall Wright for the No. 1 slot receiver job over the last few weeks, and could find himself on the roster bubble by the end of the month. A good showing Saturday night could provide a nice boost to his chance of avoiding that bubble.  

“I've been impressed with him,” Fox said before the Bears’ first preseason game. “He's got a great feel for the game. Sometimes it might not be just how fast they are physically but how fast they play, and he seems to be that type of guy. He's still got plenty of gas in the tank and we're excited to have him.”

4. DE Jonathan Bullard

Bullard is the only player on this list who flashed last Thursday, with an impressive tackle for a loss probably the Bears’ second-best defensive play of the day behind Leonard Floyd’s first-play-of-the-game sack. He’s had a solid camp, too, showing some promising signs after struggling to show much of anything a year ago. For Bullard, Saturday night will be about keeping his arrow pointing up, perhaps to the point that he could start at defensive end opposite Akiem Hicks in Week 1. 

“He’s definitely stronger, faster,” Hicks said. “He was already explosive, right? He has picked up the game to a point where he can play within the scheme now and see things come and be able to predict the play in order to get a step on the guard or the tackle, whoever he’s playing against. Just the things that come with getting more reps.”

5. CB Kyle Fuller

No player may have a better opportunity Saturday night than Fuller, who should be in line to take first-team reps with Bryce Callahan out and Prince Amukamara missing practices this week with a strained hamstring. What Fuller does with this opportunity could be a major deciding factor of whether or not he’s part of the Bears’ 53-man roster — this coaching staff and front office didn’t draft him, and his fifth-year option for 2018 was declined in the spring. 

“It’s a new year,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said earlier this month when asked about Fuller. “We start evaluating guys by what you’ve seen on the field at this point.”