- Jeff Dickerson, ESPN Staff Writer
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After catching 54 passes for 717 yards in his sophomore season, Bennett fell off the radar when Martz assumed control of the Bears offense.
First, a knee scope limited Bennett in the offseason program, then a severe hamstring pull essentially wiped out his training camp and preseason.
Bennett was inactive Week 1 vs. Detroit, but he has since become one of the Bears' most consistent and productive members of the offense. He is second on the team in receptions (39) and receiving yards (457), and in the last two games, Bennett has hauled in 11 catches for 160 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
"He's a security blanket, I guess you could say," Bears head coach Lovie Smith said. "He's reliable with where he'll be, and of course, with making the catches. Earl is definitely taking advantage of those opportunities.
"Just look at how far he's come from missing most of the offseason with an injury and starting off a little slower. But he's definitely picking up steam here lately. He's becoming one of the go-to guys."
The reason it took so long for Bennett to occupy such a key role in the offense is simple: Martz, in his first year with the Bears, didn't know much about Bennett because he was unable to practice. But receivers coach Daryl Drake continued to champion Bennett's cause until the 2008 third-round pick eventually worked his way into the wideout rotation in Week 2 against Dallas.
"He's had the same position coach for a period of time, but you want the new guys coming in -- especially Mike -- to see it," Smith said. "Eventually the cream rises to the top, and that's what's happened here."
The "Commodore connection" -- the phrase used by Smith to describe Vanderbilt products Bennett and quarterback Jay Cutler -- is quickly becoming a staple of the Bears offense. Whenever a big play needs to be made in the passing game, Cutler generally tends to look in Bennett's direction.
"Great plays are being called by Coach Martz," Bennett said. "Jay is just finding me, and I'm just making plays and helping us extend drives and get points.
"Jay has been great, outstanding, he's been doing a great job of leading us and staying composed. He makes sure everything is run [properly] on offense, so hats off to him."
Jeff Dickerson covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000.