In the third of nine position previews in advance of training camp, coach Darryl Drake discusses Bears wide receivers with ChicagoBears.com senior writer Larry Mayer:
LM: How big of a boost did the addition of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery provide?
DD: "Anytime you get players of that caliber, it's a boost. Both of them have an awful lot of talent. Brandon Marshall has proven himself in this league; he's been a Pro Bowl player. Alshon is a young and upcoming guy. So anytime you get guys with that kind of size and ability, it's definitely a boost for you."
DD: "He's a dynamic player with a great deal of ability. The sky's the limit for him ability-wise, but I'm more impressed with him as a person than I am as a football player. Put the football aside. I'm just totally impressed with him as a man. You hear all the rumors and different things about him. But he's been a great addition and a joy to work with for me personally."
LM: You already touched on it, but could you expand on what type of guy Brandon is?
DD: "He's just a good person, a good man. He understands his faults and is continually working on them. We all have them; sometimes we don't recognize them or care to recognize them. He recognizes some of the things that have plagued him and he's done something about it. As far as being a good man, he's doing all those things to be that kind of person. Once his legacy is set he wants to be known as a guy who was a good player but more importantly a good man. Like I said, I've been extremely impressed with him more so as a person than as a football player."
LM: In April you said that Alshon Jeffery had the best hands of any receiver in the draft. What are your impressions of him having worked with him during the offseason?
DD: "I feel the same way; we all saw examples of that. He still has an awful long way to go as far as being pro and understanding and learning and route running. But he's got a great deal of ability and he's shown some of those things. The thing we have to do is get him in a situation where he can consistently do those things we think he can do against the top players in the world. I've been impressed with his size and ability to catch the ball and his ability to handle some different situations. Sometimes you try to take guys and put as much pressure on them as you can and he's handled things really well. We'll continue to do that and hopefully he'll continue to grow."
LM: You've always been a strong supporter of Devin Hester as a wide receiver, but everyone seems to want to debate his skills on offense. How would you assess Devin as a receiver?
DD: "Every time I give my assessment of Devin as a wide receiver, I take a lot of flak for it. So I'm not going to do that. My thoughts on Devin have never changed and never will. I know what he is. I know what he can be. It's a matter of putting him in those situations."
LM: There's been a lot of talk this offseason about a special package of plays for Devin. What are your expectations for him in terms of his role this year?
DD: "My expectations for him are the same as they always are. We need to put him in a situation that he can be successful, get the ball in his hands and let him do the things that he's capable of doing. I feel good about the plan. I feel good about what coach [Mike] Tice is trying to do and how he's going to try to implement Devin. Players don't become great unless you put the ball in their hands. Devin gets the ball in his hands on returns and shows his greatness. We've got to get the ball in his hands at receiver and let him show what he can do. If we don't do that, that's on us—and it's been on us because we haven't done it."
LM: Earl Bennett isn't flashy, but he seems to be incredibly reliable, especially on third down. What is your assessment of him?
DD: "He's very underrated because of the things that he does. He's going to do all the dirty work. He's going to make the catch that some guys can't make. He's a security blanket for the quarterback in crucial times. He's a football player; that's exactly what he is. He defines that because he does so many things that go unnoticed. He's going to get that first down. He's going to make that tough catch over the middle. I'm just glad that we have him. He continues to improve. I think that he will really flourish in what we're trying to do with this new offense and I'm very excited about watching him play."
LM: Marshall and Jeffery aren't the only receivers the Bears added in the offseason. What have been your impressions of free-agent acquisitions Eric Weems and Devin Thomas?
DD: "Both of them have an awful lot of ability. I'm ecstatic about what Eric Weems brings to the table not only as a returner and a special teams guy but as a receiver. He's shown the ability to play any position, which gives you a lot of flexibility. He's very smart; just a good football player. Devin's got good size and strength and he too has shown the ability to be a very good special teams player. He's not as nifty as Weems, but he has good straight line speed and he's strong and has some size.
LM: Where does Dane Sanzenbacher fit in with this group?
DD: "Dane's in the mix. He's a great route runner and [Jay Cutler] feels comfortable with him. We know everybody's not going to make the team. But it's going to be a good battle. Dane does some good things in practice every day. He overcame odds last year; he's a guy who was a free agent. You can't count him out; don't do that. He'll find a way. He's had a good offseason. We just need to continue to let him do that and we'll let the chips fall where they may in training camp and the preseason."
Editor's note: Because assistant coaches generally don't comment on injuries, Darryl Drake was not asked about Johnny Knox, who continues to recover from a serious back injury.