For the 2012 Chicago Bears, one of the biggest issues they faced was the lack of receiving options for QB Jay Cutler.
Aside from Brandon Marshall, who had a career high (and Bears team record) 118 catches for 1,508 yards and 11 touchdowns, the Bears didn’t have a legitimate number two option on the field for the most part. Alshon Jeffery only played in 10 games last year, and picked up 24 receptions for 367 yards and three touchdowns. Earl Bennett was the team’s second leading receiver, and even he only had 29 catches and two touchdowns on the season.
The situation at tight end was even worse, as the Bears continued to struggle to find a guy who could command enough attention over the middle of the field to open up the edges for the receivers to work. The Bears’ leading receiver at the tight end slot was Kellen Davis, who had only 19 catches for 229 yards on the season.
Needless to say, the arrival of Martellus Bennett has changed all of that for the Bears. In just six games, Bennett has already blown past Davis’ totals from last year, with 31 receptions and 349 yards in the season’s early going. Those numbers both are on pace to shatter career highs for Bennett as well, which he set in the 2012 season with the New York Giants. In that campaign, he had 55 catches and 626 yards.
One of the biggest stories of training camp was how Bennett was not only going to give Cutler that target over the middle of the field that he’s been searching for since Gregg Olsen was traded to the Carolina Panthers, and despite the pressure that came with all those expectations, Bennett has delivered in a big way. He had the game winning touchdown reception against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 2, and also had the first touchdown in that game on a spectacular catch over the middle that sent the Soldier Field crowd into a frenzy.
Bennett’s individual effort isn’t the only contribution he’s making to the team either. Bennett has done exactly what the Bears needed him to do in terms of distracting coverage over the middle, so that linebackers and safeties can’t just gravitate to the edges to stop Marshall and Jeffery. Yes, safeties are still helping out over the top against Marshall, but on short slant routes over the middle, Bennett causes a lot of matchup issues, because linebackers have to keep an eye on him as he runs his routes, thereby getting a little bit of extra room for the ultra-athletic Marshall and the speedy Jeffery to work.
At only 26 years old, Bennett is hitting the prime of his career, and on a team loaded with free agents at the season’s end, he is under contract for three more years after this one. That contractual stability has had a big effect on Bennett’s confidence, and if he can keep thriving in his roles as both a pass-catcher and as a distraction for opposing defenders, he is going to be worth every penny.