Chicago Bears Training Camp Position Battles: Wide Receivers

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Brandon Marshall making a one-handed catch

Position battles are always a focal point of training camp. This summer in Bourbonnais will be no different for the Chicago Bears.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll dissect the ongoing battles at each position and analyze the talent on the depth chart.

First up will be the wide receiving corps, which has become an incredibly deep and athletic group under new GM Phil Emery.

The Bears are planning on keeping 6 receivers this season. Johnny Knox will start the year on the PUP list while he continues to rehab from a back injury he suffered last year.

 

But even with Knox’s injury the depth chart at wide out is so loaded with talent that only the 6th spot is up for grabs. That is a drastic change from previous camps where almost every spot was to be determined.

Take a second to let that sink in.

“The Bears” and “talented receivers” are being mentioned together. Considering almost every franchise receiving record is held by a player from the 1950’s or Walter Payton, this is a welcome change.

The obvious #1 receiver will be Brandon Marshall. He’s a proven talent who will give the Bears their first “true #1” receiver… ever.

Even with Matt Moore under center,Marshall managed 81 receptions and 1200+ yards in 2011 and averaged 102 receptions per year during his three years with Cutler in Denver.

Bears fans should expect more of the same from the Marshall. Not only can he throw his 230 lbs around over the middle, he has the speed to burn defenses on deep routes.

 

His ability to run the entire route tree and draw double teams will make life much easier for rookie Alshon Jeffery, Devin Hester, Earl Bennett, and Devin Thomas, who figure in as options 2 thru 5.

Jeffery’s 6’3”, 216 lb frame will be a welcome sight for Cutler in red zone situations. He doesn’t have blazing speed and he has admitted that the game is still moving incredibly fast to him. But Jeffery’s height and leaping ability will make him a matchup nightmare for smaller defenders.

Jeffery will have to earn more time on the field just like any other rookie. He must improve his route running, which is the same criticism that’s heard about Devin Hester.

But all indications from camp are that Hester’s route running has improved. We’ve heard this before about Hester, but even Brandon Marshall was impressed by his footwork in mini camp.

Hester figures to do most of his damage from the slot running deep patterns and spreading the defense. With Marshall and Hester running routes over the top, a lot of underneath routes will open up from Earl Bennett.

Bennett has outstanding hands and has solidified himself as one of Cutler’s favorite targets since their days together at Vanderbilt. He’ll draw plenty of favorable matchups against 2nd and 3rd string defenders in short yardage situations.

Devin Thomas is a new addition whose real value comes from what he can provide on special teams. With Knox out, Thomas is an option as the second kick returner alongside Devin Hester.

No disrespect to undrafted rookies Terriun Crump or Chris Summers, but veterans Eric Weems and Dane Sanzenbacher have the inside track for the 6th receiver spot.

Weems would have a similar impact as Thomas. Weems was Atlanta’s primary kick and punt returner for 3 seasons. Even though Hester is the clear choice here, having Weems for spot duty or injury insurance increases his value.

And then there’s cult legend Dane Sanzenbacher. There’s something about gritty receivers that tugs at the heartstrings of Bears fans. Tom Waddle is still treated like a legend in Chicago, and Sanzenbacher seems to follow the mold.

Standing only 5’11”, Sanzenbacher let the NFL know he was a viable receiving option by notching 3 touchdowns in limited playing time. He’ll have to scrap his way through camp yet again to earn the final spot.

Regardless of who earns the spot, the Bears receivers are a vastly improved unit, and I haven’t even touched on the impact of the tight ends or running backs on the passing game.

With Cutler feeling more comfortable with the offense and a gamut of shiny new toys at his disposal, look for the Bears to be light years ahead of last year’s 26th ranked passing offense.

But Cutler can’t make the throws he wants if he’s constantly under pressure, and he can’t make ANY throws from his back, or worse, from the sidelines.

Next up, I’ll examine the battles going on along the offensive line to see who will earn the chance to keep Jay Cutler on his feet.

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Comments

  1. Susan Conneely says

    Great Article, keep up the great work.

  2. Donna Aceret says

    A great article for the upcoming Bears season, keep it up. I’m looking forward to another article.

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