The Chicago Bears’ depth chart projection series continues on with a look at the WR position.
Starting X Receiver: Brandon Marshall
The minute Brandon Marshall suited up for the Bears he instantly became the best WR the team has ever had. In 2012, Marshall exceeded the expectations, breaking the franchise single season receiving yards record that was set by Marcus Robinson in 1999. He also broke Marty Booker's franchise single season record for receptions in a season.
The Cutler/Marshall connection lived up to the hype in 2012, with Marshall catching 118 passes for 1,508 yards and 11 touchdowns. In new head coach Marc Trestman’s quick-hitting west coast offense, I expect Marshall’s numbers to dip a bit, as an emphasis will be put on spreading the ball around. Marshall had been recovering from hip surgery that kept him out of most offseason activities but was medically cleared on Tuesday.
Starting Z Receiver: Alshon Jeffery
The second year WR will go into training camp as the No. 2 starter, which is something most fans expected. Next to Marshall, Jeffery is arguably the second most talented WR on the roster. The expectations are for Jeffery to take that next step and become a legit second option for Cutler and this new offense.
Jeffery, like Marshall, is a possession WR, but he’s also shown that he's deceptively fast and could potentially fill that deep threat role in Trestman's offense. What will help Jeffery be consistent in this department is just simply having a cleaner get-off at the line of scrimmage.
From the little video I have seen of Jeffery this off-season, he looks to have improved in that area along with overall route running. We should also expect to see Trestman creatively utilize Jeffery’s size in the red zone a lot more than previous offensive coordinator Mike Tice. So far this off-season, Jeffery is developing a strong rapport with Cutler. If he can take that next step this year, the offense should be much improved.
Slot Receiver: Earl Bennett
Remember when Bennett was Cutler’s favorite target? A lot has been made about how Cutler needs to make improvements, but the fact of the matter is Bennett needs to get back to his 2010 form. Ever since getting speared a couple years ago by Saints SS Roman Harper on a pass attempt over the middle of the field, Bennett hasn’t been the same. He’s been inconsistent creating separation between him and the CB and hasn’t been as reliable in the pass catching department compared to previous seasons.
Last year it just seemed Bennett had a rough time adjusting to his role as the third option behind Marshall and Jeffery. He also has had problems staying healthy which has been the main reason for his regression. 2013 is a critical year for Bennett, and we will find out if he can go back to being a reliable No. 3 option.
Fourth WR: Marquess Wilson
The Bears came into the offseason with a need at WR. They addressed the need in the seventh round of the NFL Draft on former Washington State WR Marquess Wilson. Wilson is in the same mold of an Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall; a big play-making WR, with a large catch radius, who can make plays all over the field.
Like Marshall, Wilson can be tough to bring down in the open field as he’s very quick and elusive with the ball in his hands. Wilson also shares a similar skill with Jeffery with his ability to high point the football. Right now, Wilson is working with the third team in OTAs, but I expect him to move up the depth chart during training camp. Toward the bottom of the depth chart, Wilson is arguably the most talented of the bunch.
Fifth WR: Joe Anderson
Anderson has two things working for him that could surely help him make the roster. One of them is that he has some talent as a WR. Anderson is a physical player, capable of going over the middle and making tough catches. He could likely serve well as a back-up slot WR to Bennett.
The other thing that could give him the edge over the rest of WRs fighting for spot is his willingness to play special teams. Late in the season, Anderson showed very well in kick return coverage, and if he picks up where he left off in training camp, he should be a heavy favorite to make the squad.
Sixth WR: Eric Weems
Weems gives the team very little as a WR, but as a KR and gunner on punt coverage, his value is noticeable. I think Trestman will keep six WRs, with Weems’ special teams contributions helping him secure a roster spot with the team.
*Spoiler Alert: Devin Hester will be featured in the special teams’ edition of the depth chart projection series*
Wide Receiver (6)
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