The Chicago Bears have never had a wide receiver like Brandon Marshall, and if they aren't careful they may not have him for very long. During the 2012 season no wide receiver was targeted at a higher percentage of a teams pass attempts than Brandon Marshall. If the Bears were passing 40-percent of the time the ball was going to Marshall, higher than any percentage since 1991 according to Football Outsiders the first year they kept stats.
To say that it was a grind for Marshall may be an understatement, as he had two sometimes three defenders on him every play. Marshall even alluded to the onslaught as part of the reason he had to have off-season hip surgery. Marshall told Sarah Spain of ESPNChicago.com
""It was tough sledding last year. I think that's why I had to have the surgery. I had 2-3 guys on me every single play." He has every reason to be ticked off due in part to the lack of targets and the fact that Mike Tice didn't know how to get any one else involved in the offense. Tice was a disaster in the passing game last year and with him gone the Bears should find a completely new rhythm on offense.
The Bears hope Marshall returns healthy this season, and they hope that second-year wide receiver Alshon Jeffery can stay healthy. Jeffery wasn't utilized worth a damn in Tice's offense when he was healthy and it hurt the Bears offensive efficiency during the 2012 season.
Nick Mensio of the fantasy football website Roto world went back and charted each and everyone of Jeffery's targets. This is what Mensio wrote about:
"On Jeffery’s 57 targets, I took notes of which route he ran. He ran 13 “go” routes, 13 “hitch” routes, eight “comebacks,” six back-shoulder fades, four posts, three “stutter-go” double-moves, three “ins,” two “outs,” one slant, one corner, one “seam,” one crossing route, and one route was completely ad-libbed."
Stop and consider this information for a second, 44 of Jeffery's 57 targets were essentially two routes or a variation of two routes. Either Jeffery was running down the field or coming back to the football. The other 13 targets Jeffery ran a different route other than going deep or coming back to the football on a hitch or comeback route. This just goes to show how basic Tice's offense was and how under-utilized Jeffery was during his rookie year.
Now it may be a fair question to ask if Jeffery has the ability to get separation by running any other routes in the route tree. Can he get separation on a slant, a post, a dig, or corner route etc? Or is he a one-dimensional receiver with limited deep route ability due to his lack of dynamic speed?
The Bears need to find out and should find out during camp if Jeffery can stay healthy. He missed OTA and mini-camp workouts with injuries again which allowed Earl Bennett and second year receiver Joe Anderson to get a lot of reps with Jay Cutler. Anderson in a t-shirt and underwear, at least showed the ability to run good routes and gain separation and had consistent hands. Can he keep this up as the pads come on because they have a tendency to slow down receivers.
Earl Bennett may be the number three receiver but it's debatable if he even deserves that role any longer. Bennett has been a complete bust as a wide receiver and needs to once and for all show some sort of consistency. There are times where has made clutch catches ala Rashied Davis, but much more was, and has been expected out of him. Two things stand out, can Bennett get off press coverage and can he play a full 16 game season for the first time since his second official year in the NFL?
The answer to that question will go a long ways towards helping Cutler because the Bears need as many reliable weapons as they can get in this offense. Adding to the pressure on Bennett is the re-signing of Devin Aromashodu who has good size and deep route ability. His size combined with being one of Cutler's favorite deep targets when he was here previously means he could push his way up the ladder to a possible number three role.
He showed no less than that ability in the couple of practices he participated in this spring when he immediately became the third best receiver out there ahead of Bennett and Anderson.
These three receivers seem to have the inside track on the first five receiver slots on the 53-man roster this year. It's also very likely that the Bears will only dress five receivers for the active game day roster meaning second year receiver Britton Golden, rookie seventh round pick Marques Wilson and others are on the outside looking. Further complicating matters is who is going to be the primary kick returner in the Bears' offense? One of them will likely take up a receiver slot even though they may not play a down at wide receiver all season long.
The rookie Wilson seems absolutely destined for the practice squad because he's so far behind everyone else on the roster. Barring a complete turnaround he'll wind up on the practice squad because no team will dare to sign him to their active 53-man roster once he's cut. Bears fans shouldn't panic though, as it usually takes a player one or two years to get their feet wet to the point they're ready to make an impact. Wilson will then have a year on the practice squad followed by another 2014 rookie camp combined with OTAs and veteran mini-camp to show he belongs.
No matter what happens, one thing is clear someone behind Marshall has to step up and become a legitimate weapon in this offense. There has to be a true number two receiver that can help out on the other side of the field and help attack the middle of the field with tight end Martellus Bennett.