Earl Bennett is used to being shunted to the side, then forcing his way back into the limelight. And, when he once again proves his value to the Chicago Bears, as he did with two touchdown catches in Chicago’s 31-26 victory over NFC East leader Philadelphia, he talks about the team. “I’m a team-oriented guy,” Bennett said. “Anybody could have two touchdowns and we moved to 8-3 and I would be excited. I went from training camp and preseason not even playing to now playing a lot. I’m just trying to make plays.”
Earl Bennett is used to being shunted to the side, then forcing his way back into the limelight.
And, when he once again proves his value to the Chicago Bears, as he did with two touchdown catches in Chicago’s 31-26 victory over NFC East leader Philadelphia, he talks about the team.
“I’m a team-oriented guy,” Bennett said. “Anybody could have two touchdowns and we moved to 8-3 and I would be excited.
“I went from training camp and preseason not even playing to now playing a lot. I’m just trying to make plays.”
The Bears haven’t had a 1,000-yard receiver in eight years. Bennett was drafted in the third round in 2008 to help fix that. Instead, he didn’t catch a single pass as a rookie.
And just when it looked as if he had established himself with 54 catches for 717 yards last year, Bennett had offseason knee surgery and pulled a hamstring in the preseason.
Bennett was so invisible that some wondered if he might not even make the team.
“It’s definitely scary,” Bennett said. “I just knew that when I had the opportunity, I had to take advantage of it, because I only knew I was going to be given one opportunity. I got the opportunity. Now I’m just trying to run with it.”
Run with it, he has. After having less than 30 yards receiving in each of Chicago’s first five games, Bennett has topped 50 yards in four of the last six. His three touchdowns in his last four games are one more than he had in his previous two and a half years.
“He got injured in camp, but he’s worked hard to get back,” running back Matt Forte said. “I’m proud of Earl. Being able to run after the catches, it’s unbelievable what he’s been doing.”
Bennett, billed as a possession receiver by some, wasn’t supposed to be dangerous after the catch.
“People always want to give you a label,” said the 6-foot-1, 205-pound Bennett, who has exceeded that label by combining toughness with surprising quickness. He broke several tackles to turn one short pass from Jay Cutler into a 30-yard gain against the Eagles in the type of play that has become his signature.
“Earl has been huge,” tight end Greg Olsen said. “You know exactly what you are going to get with Earl. He’s going to make the plays and he’s great running after the catch. He’s a big, strong guy. Jay did a good job getting rid of the ball, getting it out fast and letting Earl run.”
Offensive coordinator Mike Martz even called on Bennett to replace Cutler for one play. In his first Wildcat snap, he handed off to Forte for a 9-yard gain.
“I was excited it was called,” Bennett said. “The end didn’t crash down, so I had to hand it off, but you never know what’s going to happen on that play. I just thank Coach Martz for giving me the opportunity to pretty much be a quarterback.”
His most important role, though, is to be the slot receiver on a team that think it’s just starting to hit its stride.
“Everybody’s getting better,” Bennett said. “Jay makes us better. We make Jay better. The offensive line makes us all better. Everybody chimes in and tries to help one another improve. We’ve all got to be able to take the heat, but it’s all good.
“We’ve been on it from Game 1; we just had to put the pieces of the puzzle together. The offense was rocking (against the Eagles) and the defense was out there running around making plays. Everything is coming together.”
Matt Trowbridge can be reached at 815-987-1383 or email@example.com.