Chicago Bears receivers coach Darryl Drake is all about creating competition for his charges, but the way he's gone about it has a lot of people shaking their heads and wondering who's driving the plane. Drake, who coached new Bears receiver Roy Williams when the two were both with the Texas Longhorns, has come down firmly on both sides of the fence when it comes to his old buddy, and Williams' role in contrast to Johnny Knox, who was by far the Bears' most efficient receiver in 2010.
Chicago signed Williams to a one-year contract on July 29 primarily at the behest of offensive coordinator Mike Martz, who helped engineer Williams' two best seasons when he ran the Detroit Lions' offense in 2006 and 2007.
However, in Chicago's 41-13 preseason loss to the New York Giants last Monday, Williams was singularly unimpressive, dropping two of the three passes thrown to him, catching none, and appearing to give less than optimal effort. According to multiple reports, Williams still isn't in game shape. Meanwhile, Knox caught two of his three targets for 21 yards and added 102 yards on five total punt and kick returns.
The gap in effort and production between the two players made Drake look a bit foolish after he had talked Williams up and treated Knox as a second-teamer as recently as Aug. 6.
"You don't bring a Roy Williams in here to sit on the bench," Drake told the Chicago Tribune then. "Johnny has a lot of room to improve, and he's got to improve. Johnny did some real good things last year. He had some nice numbers. But he still has a long ways to go."
After the Giants game, Drake appeared to change his tune.
"[Williams] and I have talked about that. And the good thing about it is, you got Johnny Knox who is fighting and working hard. And believe you and me, [Williams] also understands that Johnny is there, and Johnny is hungry, and Johnny wants his spot back. And if things don't start changing, then Johnny is going to be in there. Heard it straight from the horse's mouth."
Well, it's starting to look as if the coaching is coming from a different part of the horse. To put Knox on the block when it was Williams who was out of sorts and out of shape all along seems questionable at best. Creating competition, and lighting a fire under players, are two points of order for coaches in certain circumstances, but to create dissension in the ranks just for the sake of it makes little sense.
According to Football Outsiders' game-charting numbers, the Bears ran formations with three or more receivers 59 percent of the time, which ranked eighth in the league. When Martz is running two-wide and a slot guy as a matter of course, there's no reason to create pecking orders when none really exist. Starting receivers on an offense like that is like starting cornerbacks on a team that runs a lot of nickel coverage — your name may show up first on the depth chart, but the guy below you is doing just as much.
In any case, Drake seems to have finally come around on the idea of Knox as a receiver worth considering.
"I know a lot is being made about Johnny not being in there but this has helped Johnny," Drake said on Wednesday. "This has helped him to be a better student of the game. Johnny has improved tremendously. I'm very proud of what he's done, and he needs to continue to do that because there were some things he needed to do. But as long as he continues to make the strides he's making, he's going to be fine."
That's quite possible, but it's just as easy to assume that Knox has been making strides all along, and it's his coach who's just now catching up.