Brandon Lloyd goes up for the catch on a 2-point conversion in Sunday's loss to Tampa Bay.
Rick West | Staff Photographer
All the early indications point to Brandon Lloyd as the Bears' go-to receiver, even if the team doesn't want to admit it yet, preferring to give the illusion of a balanced passing attack.
But Lloyd's 216 receiving yards are more than twice that of all the Bears' other wide receivers combined, and his 16.6-yard average per catch is 4 yards better than any teammate.
Lloyd has demonstrated an ability to stretch the field vertically, not so much because of blazing speed but because of his rare leaping ability and his proficiency at adjusting to deep passes that are sometimes off course.
That could be a huge asset Sunday night at Soldier Field against a Philadelphia Eagles defense that is the NFL's best against the run and in sack percentage.
In four previous games against the Eagles, as a member of the San Francisco 49ers and the Washington Redskins, Lloyd caught a modest 8 passes, but 3 of them were for more than 30 yards.
"He's a very instinctive player," said Bears offensive coordinator Ron Turner. "He does adjust to the deep ball extremely well, and he always has."
When Turner was head coach at Illinois, he successfully recruited Lloyd to Champaign, where his 2,583 receiving yards and 21 touchdowns were second most in school history.
"I remember the first day I saw him as a freshman at college," Turner said. "He just naturally can change speeds and get his body in the right position to adjust to the deep ball."
Lloyd, a 7-foot high jumper in high school, excels at plucking the ball at its highest point, making it difficult for more gravity-challenged defenders.
"The way I always play is, I don't want the ball to ever come down on me," Lloyd said. "I always feel the percentages are higher of me making the play by jumping up and catching it with my hands instead of letting it fall into my body.
"That's how I approach it, so I just kind of jump up there and get it no matter where it is."
That enables him to play a lot bigger than your run-of-the-mill 6-foot, 194-pound receiver.
"Even when I was in college, people were like, 'Whoa, I thought you were like 6-6 or something,' " Lloyd said. "People have always said that to me."
Lloyd displayed all those qualities in his second and third seasons in San Francisco, catching a total of 91 passes for 1,298 yards and 11 touchdowns.
But his career hit the skids in two seasons with the Redskins, culminating in a 2-catch 2007 season, when he missed the second half with a shoulder injury and had well-documented problems relating to teammates and coaches.
"I heard some of the stories," Turner said. "I didn't hear all of them. I'm sure everyone (at Halas Hall) heard some stories about him because they were all out there.
"But I knew him. I'd known him since he was 17 years old, and I knew his family. I knew he came from a good family; I knew he was a good kid, and I knew he had great talent.
"We all felt we had nothing to lose. If he comes in here, and we can take advantage of that ability and get that talent going and keep him focused on the right things, which is preparing for the games, that he could be a great player. So far he's doing a great job of that, and hopefully we can keep him focused."
Turner didn't have to beg coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jerry Angelo to give Lloyd a chance, but he did speak on his behalf.
"I don't know if I had to sell them," Turner said. "I obviously talked about him as a person. The film spoke for itself as far as his ability, but I did talk to them about him as a person, and I believed in him.
"I thought he'd come in here and do what we asked him to do and do it the right way, and if he didn't, then he knew he wouldn't be here."
Lloyd said in training camp he knew he might be running out of chances, but he said he didn't doubt his ability to produce if given the chance.
"I never felt once that I couldn't help a team win ballgames and be a productive member of a team," he said. "That's all I want to do. It's all about the football to me. I said that when I got here, and that's the way I continue to approach it."
So far it's working.