The season is still young, but here are four sure things about the Bears

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Chicago Bears wide receiver Johnny Knox

    Chicago Bears wide receiver Johnny Knox Associated Press

 
 
Published9/29/2009 4:45 PM

Several things are obvious about this year's Bears after just three weeks. Most of the early signs are positive, but there are some concerns.

No 1: Believe in Hester

 

Anyone who doesn't believe Devin Hester is a bona fide No. 1 receiver hasn't been paying attention.

He's had at least 4 catches in each of the first three games, and on 4 of his 5 catches against the Seahawks, Hester made adjustments on balls that were not well thrown.

Hester has always had soft hands, elite speed and rare make-you-miss ability. Add his work ethic, which has always been exemplary, and Jay Cutler, and you've got the recipe for a 1,000-yard receiver.

It's Hester's time. He's only going to get better, and he's already pretty good.

"Devin's a good receiver," offensive coordinator Ron Turner reiterated. "Whenever he's had a chance to make plays this year he's made them just about every time."

The knock that Hester doesn't have good hands is ridiculous. He may misjudge punts and doesn't always use good judgment on when to field the ball and when to let it go, but he is sure-handed and catches punts more effortlessly and naturally than anyone on the team. And catching punts at Soldier Field is a lot tougher than catching passes.

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Cutler was supposed to make Hester and everyone else better, and he has. But Hester has helped make Cutler better, too.

No 2: No place to run

The Bears are not a good running team, the offensive line has not done a good job of opening holes, and Matt Forte does not look like the same guy who rushed for 1,238 yards as a rookie last year.

"I see signs of us getting back to where we need to be in the running game," coach Lovie Smith said, but he must have X-ray vision because there really hasn't been much to be enthused about.

Forte does not have a run longer than 11 yards on his first 59 carries, and his 2.5-yard average is way below the league average of 4.2.

"I'd like to be known as a running team that can pass the ball," Smith said after the victory in Seattle.

So far they're just a team that can pass the ball.

No 3: No knock on Knox

Johnny Knox is the real deal, but he won't be able to sneak up on opponents anymore after catching 8 passes for 152 yards in his first two games, playing almost exclusively in three-wide receiver sets. Pretty impressive for a fifth-round draft pick, the 140th overall, which the Bears acquired as a throw-in on the Jay Cutler deal.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

He only had 1 catch vs. the Seahawks, but with superior individual effort, he sneaked into the end zone.

Knox's big-play ability may have already earned him the full-time kickoff-return job over Danieal Manning. Manning's 29.7-yard average led the NFL last year, but Knox, who is averaging 29.2, might be even better.

No. 4: An A for Afalava

• Despite his big-play ability, Knox might not be the Bears' most productive rookie this year. That honor might go to sixth-round safety Al Afalava, who plays every down on an improved defense that might be good enough to overcome the loss of Brian Urlacher. Afalava wasn't supposed to be much of a cover guy, but he leads the Bears with 3 pass break-ups.

Not bad for a guy who missed most of the OTA practices because, according to NFL rules, he had to wait until the spring semester was completed at Oregon State before he joined the Bears.

Credit assistant defensive backs coach Gill Byrd for Afalava's ability to contribute immediately.

When Afalava left the rookie minicamp to return to Corvallis, he brought a playbook with him, and he and Byrd spent an hour and a half on the phone every night going over the strong safety's responsibilities in every situation. That enabled Afalava to hit the ground running when he finally got back to Halas Hall.

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