This is the third in a series of Bears position breakdowns by the Chicago Football staff leading up to the start of training camp July 25 in Bourbonnais. For more Bears and NFL news, visit ChicagoFootball.com.
Today: Wide receivers
Overview: There is little question, in fact none in my mind, that entering the 2014 season, wide receiver is the strongest position on the Bears roster and Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery make up the best pair of starting wideouts in the NFL.
It also is possible, however, that should either Marshall or Jeffery get dinged and miss any significant playing time, wide receiver could become the Bears’ greatest weakness.
In other words, depth is a huge question.
But let’s go with the glass half full story first: When both Pro Bowlers Marshall (100 catches for 1,295 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2013) and Jeffery (89 catches for 1,421 yards and seven scores, plus 20 catches of 20-plus yards) are on the field, it is pick your poison for Bears opponents, and their defenses really can’t afford to double-team either one for fear Jay Cutler will find Martellus Bennett or Matt Forte to abuse them with.
The lone remaining doubt on Jeffery is how effective will he be if Marshall is off the field and defenses aren’t geared to stop the veteran first? At the end of the day they are the most productive duo in the NFL.
The problem is that among Josh Bellamy, Armanti Edwards, Josh Morgan, Micheal Spurlock, Terrence Tolliver, Eric Weems, Chris Williams and Marquess Wilson behind them on the roster, Morgan is the only one with meaningful NFL starting experience and production, should someone have to step up.
At 6-1, 220 pounds, Morgan has 199 catches for 2,488 yards and 11 TD’s in four years with the 49ers and two more, most recently in Washington.
Wilson is the guy the Bears hope can take a huge step up after drafting him in the seventh round in 2013. He was active for 10 games last year, but targeted just twice with two catches for 13 yards.
Edwards, Spurlock and Weems are career journeymen who will be in training camp more as special teams specialists than wideout options. The problem for Williams is at 5-foot-7 (the Bears list him as 5-8 but he isn’t), 175 pounds he is probably strictly a return specialist in the NFL.
Bellamy and Tolliver are basically practice squad guys hoping to take the next step.
Position battles: The most fascinating battle to watch in camp will be Morgan and Wilson going head-to-head for the No. 3 wide receiver position. As high as the Bears folks claim to be on Wilson, and he took all the first-team reps in OTA’s and minicamp, Morgan should provide quite the competition and be given a chance to win the job.
The best battle in camp will probably be Williams, Spurlock and Edwards battling for punt return chores with Weems joining them in the kickoff returner competition. Only one of the first three will make the club with Weems having a shot at sticking as a special teams gunner even if he can’t be a returner.
Contract situations (information via Spotrac): With Marshall receiving a three-year extension last month, the Bears have no contracts to worry about here. Jeffery will be eligible for a contract extension for the first time following this season so another big year for him will put pressure on the Bears to belly up to the bar with some serious cash, though the franchise tag will be in play in 2016. The three guys they covet the most – Marshall, Jeffery and Wilson – are all under club control beyond this season.
Keep an eye on: Tolliver is the guy who could be intriguing if he were able to take a huge step forward from last season. At 6-5, 204, lining him up with the 6-4 Marshall, 6-3 Jeffery and 6-6 Bennett would be a matchup nightmare for any defense. But with Wilson ahead of him on the depth chart and standing 6-4 himself, it just doesn’t seem likely the Bears will have any real surprises at this position this year. Wilson is the other guy to watch as Marshall and the coaches continue to sing his praises.