Trouble out wide for Bears

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Trouble out wide for Bears

No Jay Cutler. No Matt Forte. Now no Johnny Knox.

Wide receiver Johnny Knox was undergoing back surgery on Monday following the nightmarish hit he took in Sundays loss to the Seattle Seahawks. The hope is for a full recovery that will give Knox a chance of returning to his game, but more importantly, also to a pain-free life after a horrible injury.

On a completely different level, the Bears suddenly are facing desperate game situations needing to win by running the ball but without the full presence of their two speed receivers to create at least the threat of a deep throw now and then.

Knox was leading the Bears in receptions (37) at the time of his injury after leading them in receiving yardage last season. His gaudy 19.8-yard average per reception ranked among the NFLs best.

Now he is gone for the year and Devin Hester, the other outside speed opposite Knox, is still fighting through ankle and other minor injuries. Hester caught zero passes Sunday, wasnt targeted on any throws, and has zero receptions in five of the Bears last six games, and just one in the Philadelphia game before that span.

Meaning: The Bears primary receivers right now are Earl Bennett, Dane Sanzenbacher and Roy Williams, with a combined 4 receptions Sunday.

Ominously perhaps, Williams is still having communications problems with Bears quarterbacks, and now there may be a different one throwing to him. Williams misconnected with Caleb Hanie and the result was a 42-yard interception return for a touchdown by cornerback Brandon Browner in the fourth quarter.

That may have been Hanies last pass as a Bear.

Josh McCown replaced Hanie on the next series, only to see his second pass attempt, toward Williams, also be intercepted.

The Browner INT is on me, Williams said. Thats my fault. Dont put it on the quarterback; put it on me. It was a great play by the defender.

Bennett averages 15 yards per catch with a long of 34 this season. Sanzenbacher less than 10 yards per reception, none longer than 18 yards. Williams has no catch longer than 25 yards in 2011.

Weve lost some of our firepower out there, coach Lovie Smith acknowledged. Devin, best returner in the history of the game, knows how to make you miss and stretch the field. Johnny has had that role for us.

So we are missing those guys. But when youre down a few players you have to adjust what you do and find other ways to move down the field. You dont have to do it vertical always and thats what we have to do.

Bears Talk Podcast: Breaking down camp competition at wide receiver

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Bears Talk Podcast: Breaking down camp competition at wide receiver

On this week’s Bears Talk Podcast, we hear from Markus Wheaton as Chris Boden and JJ Stankevitz discuss the training camp competition at slot receiver.

Boden and Stankevitz also weigh in on PFF ranking the Bears’ starting lineup 18th in the NFL, answer listener questions and add another layer of Aaron Rodgers envy.

Listen to the latest Bears Talk Podcast right here:

Can Leonard Floyd break out in 2017? The Bears like the early signs

Can Leonard Floyd break out in 2017? The Bears like the early signs

The Bears believe Leonard Floyd will make the leap from being a promising rookie to a breakout second-year player, the kind who can be a centerpiece of a defense as soon as this fall.  

The Bears in 2016 totaled 37 sacks —12th in the NFL — despite dealing with a rash of injuries and not having a standout player in terms of getting to the quarterback. Willie Young led the team with 7 1/2 sacks, which tied him for 31st in the league last year, while Floyd and Akiem Hicks each had seven. 

Sixteen players recorded double-digit sacks last year. That’s not the end-all benchmark for Floyd in 2017, but for a former top-10 pick with elite skills and, as his coaches and teammate said, the right mentality, it’s not out of the question. 

“With most players, you go from your freshman year to sophomore or rookie to second year, … it slows down, they understand it, they're not thinking, they're reacting,” coach John Fox said. “And so I'd expect that and I've seen that already even in the off-season.”

Floyd, earlier this month, talked about how much more comfortable he feels after a full year of practicing and playing at the NFL level. 

“Everything was just fast when I got here last year,” Floyd said. “This year’s it’s way slower and I feel like I’m doing pretty good this year.”

There are two issues with Floyd that won’t go away until he proves they’re not problems in the regular season, though: His weight and his concussions. 

The weight issue is one Floyd has heard for a while, joking with reporters during veteran minicamp that he was surprised it wasn’t the first thing he was asked during his session with the media. He said he “definitely gained some weight” without revealing how much he’s put on, only saying he feels like he’s in much better shape now than he was as a rookie.

“It’s like night and day compared to last year,” Floyd said. 

The concessions are a far more serious — and scary — issue given it took Floyd two months to fully recover from the second concussion he suffered in 2016. 

The Bears believe Floyd’s concussion issues are correctable, though, given they were the product of poor tackling form made worse by collisions with Hicks. The crown of Floyd’s helmet was too low, so he and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio worked with tackling dummies and sled machines in an effort to fix that issue. 

The hope is that Floyd can stay healthy and marry his skills with a better knowledge of the game to put together a breakout year in 2017. His teammates sounded confident during the offseason program that everything was falling into place for the former ninth overall pick. 

“He’s a great competitor,” Hicks said. “Great energy, fast, athletic, he’s everything you want in an outside linebacker, right? Nonstop motor — I can give you all the cliche terms, but I just feel like as far as the defensive line or an outside linebacker, another year under his belt is only going to make him better.”

Added linebacker Jerrell Freeman: “That guy is going to be good for a while.”