When Bernard Berrian set sail for the many lakes of Minnesota, Bears fans had reason to grow nervous. An offense that already had question marks in its backfield all of a sudden had no primary target to throw to in its passing game. It's an ugly situation, and it didn't help matters when departed wideout Mushin Muhammad referred to the Windy City as the place "where receivers go to die."
The return of Marty Booker, who thrived in Chicago several years ago, helped to stabilize the situation, but no one believes Booker to be the long-term answer at the position. The Bears do not have many options to turn to, and heading into camp Booker was tabbed by many to be the player to beat. In the team's first preseason game, however, more than a dozen Bear players caught passes; Booker dropped his only opportunity. Could returner extraordinaire Devin Hester rise to the occasion? Chicago is willing to find out, but the Bears also want to get a read on Mark Bradley and Brandon Lloyd, among others.
The only thing that is clear in Chicago is that, come Week 1, the Bears will have someone penciled in as the No. 1 receiver. Who that will be is still very much a mystery heading into mid-August ...
Like every good story needs a climax, every good camp battle needs a struggle between young and old. In case you haven't figured it out, Booker is playing the 'old' in this scenario. At 32, Booker is in the twilight of what's been an up-and-down career. During his last tour in Chicago, Booker was a fantasy stud in PPR leagues. He caught 197 passes in 2001 and 2002 combined, and wasn't too shabby around the goal line, either. His numbers have since dipped, but they're not as bad as most fantasy owners make them out to be. Fact is, in the five seasons that have followed those two big years Booker has caught fewer than 50 balls just once. Of the receivers in this camp he has by far the most experience, and is probably the best possession option -- even at his age. Booker offers the team similar size to Bradley and Rashied Davis, but he handles himself better than they do in the middle of the field.
While Booker might be best for the team right now, Bradley is perhaps its best option long term. An accomplished receiver at Oklahoma where he was overshadowed by others, Bradley has developed slowly since Chicago selected him in the second round three years ago. Since that time he's been hindered by knee and ankle trouble (just 38 career catches), but now appears fully healthy. It also hasn't helped Bradley that he was stationed behind Berrian. Now with a chance to rise to the top -- something the team has made it no secret they hope he can do -- Bradley can become a viable No. 4 fantasy receiver with a good camp.
There was a time, not too long ago, when Lloyd was considered an up-and-coming fantasy prospect. His 2006 move from San Francisco to Washington was supposed to bring him more opportunity, and eventually, provide improved results. Didn't happen. In 23 games as a Redskin, Lloyd caught 25 passes. Now he'll be given one final chance. Optimistic fantasy owners might care to remember the player who caught more than 40 balls in each of his final two seasons with the 49ers. The pessimists will point to his two-catch season in 2007. But Lloyd has never had a bigger opportunity than this one; finally mature, and with a clean slate to work with, he just might make the most of it.
Every game-breaking defensive player begs to catch footballs on offense (Deion Sanders, Champ Bailey, etc). Hester is certainly no defensive stud, but his special teams play has begged the question why he wouldn't get more touches on offense. The answer: Hester needs polish (lots of it). But he has made it clear he would like to get a crack at it, and the money the team has invested in him is considerably more than any of the other players vying for reps. Newcomer Earl Bennett has to factor into the picture, too, but the team officials seem content bringing him along slowly considering the phase they are in right now. Davis, like Bradley, is an undeveloped talent who the team hopes can take a step forward. Whether that step comes this season, who knows? Last season the San Jose State product had eight catches in the first four games combined but faded after that.
The starting quarterback. Let's face it, if the man behind center struggles all of this is moot and no Bears receiver will be worth much, if anything at all. Of course, that job is up in the air, too.
As for receiver, fantasy owners can count on another 50-catch season from Booker if he wins the job. While Lloyd's past success at San Francisco, Hester's home run ability and Bradley's upside offer more to be excited about, fantasy football is a game of risk management. Booker offers little 'boom' potential but also less risk than anyone else capable of dislodging him from that spot.