Earl Bennett says he's learned the playbook and he's ready to make an impact.
Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer
At first glance, Earl Bennett's rookie season looks like a bust. At second glance, too.
The third-round pick from Vanderbilt didn't catch a pass for the Bears last season and barely got on the field for a team that had a serious shortage of talent at wide receiver.
But Bennett will get plenty of opportunities this season to prove that the Bears didn't waste a draft pick on him. In just three years, the 6-foot, 203-pound Bennett established the all-time career receptions record in the Southeastern Conference with 236, but he admits he was slow to grasp the nuances of the Bears' playbook.
"I had a problem learning the plays at the beginning," Bennett said. "I struggled with it a bit, just like I struggled with it my first year in college. But as of now, I feel real comfortable with the playbook. I could just about play any position on the field. I feel like I've got the playbook down, and I'm ready to go."
During the three-day minicamp that concluded Thursday, Bennett took most of his reps with the starters.
"Earl has looked good," coach Lovie Smith said. "At the end of last year we thought he had made a lot of progress. It's not all new to him now. He's fitting in fairly well. Earl has talent. He's getting an opportunity to show exactly what he can do."
While Bennett's improvement last year didn't manifest itself on game days, his command of the playbook and confidence in his route running was evident in practices later in the season.
"I feel like I've progressed a lot since last year when I first came in," he said. "This was a big opportunity to get in there and showcase what I can do, and hopefully I showed the coaches what I can do."
Making an impression: Recently signed unrestricted free-agent safety Josh Bullocks had 1 of the defense's 3 interceptions in abbreviated 11-on-11 and 7-on-7 drills.
The former Saint is running with the first team at free safety, a position that has been a problem area in recent years for the Bears, who have had plenty of strong-safety types but struggled to find a player with the speed and range that Bullocks has flashed.
"We've known about him for a while," coach Lovie Smith said. "We looked at him quite a bit when he came out in the draft (out of Nebraska). He has good size. He's started in the league for a long time. He has excellent speed.
"When we got a chance to meet him, he seemed like the guy who would fit in with what we were trying to do. It was good to see him make a couple plays."
Taking a break: Linebacker Lance Briggs was excused from the final day of minicamp for personal reasons. Defensive tackle Tommie Harris was held out as a precaution on the final day after participating in the first two practices.