Believe it or not, Bears’ receiving corps has multiple weapons
BY NEIL HAYES firstname.lastname@example.org June 14, 2012 10:30PM
Chicago Bears' Brandon Marshall during practice Tuesday, June 12, 2012 in Lake Forest, Ill. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Updated: July 16, 2012 6:35AM
This is no time for grandiose statements. Training camp means little and minicamp even less.
That said, here’s one prediction I’m comfortable making in June: Bears receivers are going to give opposing defensive coordinators fits. In fact, there might not be many receiving corps in the league as capable of creating mismatches.
‘‘We’ve got so many weapons,’’ Devin Hester said after the Bears’ final minicamp practice Thursday at Halas Hall. ‘‘It’s not like the group we used to have. We’ve got guys 6-4, 6-5 who can go up and get jump balls, and then we’ve got speedy guys. The way our receivers are looking right now, we’ve got one of the top receiving corps in this league.’’
As bold as that might sound, it’s difficult to argue after watching what was once a weakness blossom into what should be an overwhelming strength.
Take it from a guy who watched Jerry Rice and Tim Brown during countless practices: Brandon Marshall is every bit as impressive in shorts. He’s the big target the Bears have lacked, he gets downfield in a flash and he catches Jay Cutler’s rocket launches smoothly.
Hester looks more comfortable than ever. Earl Bennett should be stepping into his prime, and rookie Alshon Jeffery might be the key to it all.
‘‘We have guys that can run and catch, make plays, play physical, go take the ball out of the sky, go up and get the ball, and we have to be able to get those athletes the football when the situation deems itself,’’ offensive coordinator Mike Tice said. ‘‘At the same time, we can’t be afraid to throw the ball downfield against single coverage. If we get single coverage, we’ve got to be able to take advantage of that. Free access on a great player should be something a defense should be punished for doing. I’ve always felt that. We’re going to make sure we do that.’’
Tice has had Hester and Marshall split wide on one snap and in the slot on the next, creating mismatches galore. If defensive coordinators choose to double-team the outside receiver, they will be giving the Bears an advantage inside.
Most teams have one big cornerback, but few have two. If the 6-4 Marshall draws the bigger of the two, the 6-3 Jeffery should create another mismatch on the other side of the field. Factor in Bennett’s ability to make intermediate catches on crucial downs, and stopping the Bears should be a chore.
The Bears have struggled in goal-line situations in recent years. But with Jeffery on one side, Marshall on the other, Matt Forte coming out of the backfield and the threat of tight ends Kellen Davis and Evan Rodriguez down the middle, Cutler suddenly has more options than anyone thought possible a year ago.
‘‘It’s going to be scary,’’ Hester said. ‘‘If we put all this together, with Brandon and Jay and Matt coming back, it’s going to be hard to stop us.’’
Jeffery’s production will be critical. The passing game can be good without him, but it can be great if he can make a significant contribution.
Jeffery sat out the Tuesday and Thursday practices with a leg injury, but Cutler made sure he threw to him whenever possible Wednesday. Receivers coach Darryl Drake barked at Jeffery when he dropped a pass. The message the organization is sending Jeffery is clear enough: You could be part of something Chicago hasn’t seen.
‘‘Awesome,’’ Marshall said when asked about the group of receivers he has joined. ‘‘Our receiver corps, we have a lot of room to grow, but we have the ability to be one of the better corps in the league. And that’s what we’re working toward.’’